Sep 12, 2016

Update: Eye In the Sky

An update on Ross McNutt and his superpower — he can zoom in on everyday life, then rewind and fast-forward to solve crimes in a shutter-flash. But should he?

In 2004, when casualties in Iraq were rising due to roadside bombs, Ross McNutt and his team came up with an idea. With a small plane and a 44 mega-pixel camera, they figured out how to watch an entire city all at once, all day long. Whenever a bomb detonated, they could zoom onto that spot and then, because this eye in the sky had been there all along, they could scroll back in time and see - literally see - who planted it. After the war, Ross McNutt retired from the Air Force, and brought this technology back home with him. Manoush Zomorodi and Alex Goldmark from the podcast “Note to Self” give us the lowdown on Ross’s unique brand of persistent surveillance, from Juarez, Mexico to Dayton, Ohio. Then, once we realize what we can do, we wonder whether we should.

Produced by Andy Mills. Special thanks to Dan Tucker and George Schulz.

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Intro:

Listener-supported WNYC Studios.

Robert Krulwich:

Oh, wait. You're listening-

Speaker 3:

Okay.

Jad Abrumad:

All right.

Speaker 3:

Okay.

Jad Abrumad:

All right.

Speaker 3:

You're listening to Radiolab.

Robert Krulwich:

Radiolab.

Speaker 3:

From-

Jad Abrumad:

WNYC.

Speaker 3:

C?

Robert Krulwich:

Yup.

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich. This is Radiolab, and I have the host of Note To Self with me. That's another WNYC podcast that comes out of here, a brilliant one. And the brilliant test person who does it all, Manoush Zomorodi, is with me.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Hello, Robert.

Robert Krulwich:

And I asked you to come in just because I wanted you to sort of set this up, if you could.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Oh, happy to. So we did, Radiolab and Note to Self, did a joint episode last year called Eye In The Sky. It was a disturbing story, but-

Robert Krulwich:

It's kind of like a spy thriller, actually.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Definitely a spy thriller. And it turns out a lot has happened since that episode was first put out.

Robert Krulwich:

Right. There have been developments which truly surprised me, and I don't want to give you any details, so just listen to what's about to happen, and then don't go away at the end. Stay. Okay. We'll begin.

Alex Goldmark:

So how did you guys find out about this? How'd you get into it?

Manoush Zomorodi:

I think it was somebody was reading about it.

Alex Goldmark:

This is Manoush Zomorodi.

Manoush Zomorodi:

It was you reading about it.

Alex Goldmark:

Right.

Robert Krulwich:

And that's her producer, Alex Goldmark.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And I just said, his name is McNutt. I just wanted to do a show where I get to say that name at least 10 times, please. But then we actually read it, and it was weird and interesting and brought up lots of issues.

Barack Obama:

Technology is remaking what is possible for individuals and for institutions and for the international order.

Jad Abrumad:

I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad Abrumad:

This is Radiolab. So here we are at this moment in time where we were faced with these decisions...

Robert Krulwich:

... about what we want our future to look like, be like.

Barack Obama:

There are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do that places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do.

Jad Abrumad:

Today, we're going to look at the can and the should with our friends down the hall, Manoush Zamorodi and Alex Goldmark. They run a great podcast called Note to Self. They will be our guides into the world of...

Manoush Zomorodi:

McNutt.

Ross McNutt:

Yes, my name's Ross McNutt.

Manoush Zomorodi:

So McNutt, as I refer to him, he's an ex-military guy.

Ross McNutt:

Did 20 years in the Air Force. I enjoyed it. I did a lot of good.

Jad Abrumad:

Like combat military?

Manoush Zomorodi:

He was an engineer in the military.

Jad Abrumad:

I mean, I think he's actually special military.

Ross McNutt:

My background. I've got a PhD in rapid product development out of MIT. And what I do is I teach young people how to build new systems.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And the new system, that's the system that we want to talk about, that kind of began in 2004. Ross was teaching a course at a military college.

Ross McNutt:

I was at the Air Force Institute of Technology here at Wright-Patterson in Dayton.

Manoush Zomorodi:

It says one day in 2004, the whole school gathered together for a rally.

Ross McNutt:

And our commander got up in front of the whole school and said, "We need to do something to help the war effort."

News clip:

Terrible violence today in the Iraqi city of Basra.

Manoush Zomorodi:

So at that time in the Iraq war ...

Ross McNutt:

Before the surge ...

Manoush Zomorodi:

Things were not going well.

News clip:

Suicide bombs ripped through police buildings and city streets.

Ross McNutt:

IEDs going off all over the place.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Constant news about IEDs going off everywhere, soldiers being blown up.

Angie Horn:

In one week I got blown up three times.

Ross McNutt:

And to be honest with you in 2004, it looked like we were going to lose.

Manoush Zomorodi:

So Ross, he gets together some of his students, some of his colleagues and they decide, "Let's sit down and see if we can find a solution, quickly, find a solution to figuring out who is planting all these roadside bombs."

Ross McNutt:

Yeah. Bombs going off are pretty easy to detect in images. The problem is how do you go from a bomb going off backwards in time to be able to figure out who planted it? So somehow it just came out, and it ...

Jad Abrumad:

Was it like you guys sitting around?

Manoush Zomorodi:

It was at a bar.

Ross McNutt:

It was at a bar. We were working on a back of the napkin and we're drawing out different ideas and throwing them around and seeing what happens.

Jad Abrumad:

They were just like, Hey, let's use planes, let's try this. Let's try that. And then they hit on it.

Ross McNutt:

This one stuck. And we sort of drew this out on a back of an envelope.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Making it took a little while.

Ross McNutt:

38 students working for me for two years.

Manoush Zomorodi:

But eventually they developed what became known as project angel fire. And here's how it worked. They take a small plane, and on the belly of the plane, they hook up this array of cameras that sort of swivel around.

Ross McNutt:

The camera system we designed and built ...

Manoush Zomorodi:

Super high end, and then ...

Angie Horn:

you're ready to go.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And then, the pilot takes off, flies the plane high over Fallujah.

Ross McNutt:

In the military. We were up at about 15 to 16,000 feet to stay out of the missile range.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Let's say I'm an Iraqi on the ground in Fallujah,and I look up, what would I see?

Robert Krulwich:

You wouldn't see us. You wouldn't hear us, or you wouldn't see us.

Jad Abrumad:

So you've got this plane flying just below the clouds, doing an orbit over Fallujah circle, circle, circle ...

Manoush Zomorodi:

For six hours at a time ..

Jad Abrumad:

And every second ...

Manoush Zomorodi:

Click, click, click, click.

Jad Abrumad:

Every second, it takes a still image of the entire city of Fallujah, 25 square miles, and then beams it down to an operator.

Ross McNutt:

We take a picture, process it, downlink it, process it, downlink it, every single second.

Manoush Zomorodi:

So the plane is snapping picture after picture, after picture, but here's what makes the system so powerful. The operator on the ground has, let's say, an entire day's worth of these high res pictures of the entire city of Fallujah, and then let's say there's an explosion.

News clip:

Officials say at least 20 people were killed in explosions at a market ...

Female News Anchor:

People, and wound 11 others.

Manoush Zomorodi:

First, the operator would pull up the most current image of the city, zoom into the place within Fallujah, where it happened, and then click, click, click in one second increments, go back in time and see who was there, what happened.

Jad Abrumad:

When was the last time somebody fiddled around in that room? That, yeah, and you're like, okay, I've gone back two hours. And it's that car.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Fast forward, click, click, click. They can now follow that car forward in time to see where it goes.

Jad Abrumad:

And you see that it went to a house in another neighborhood, two miles away. Well, that's where you dispatch your troops to right then.

Ross McNutt:

Basically we'd be able to send either the special forces then or the Marines in and sort of take appropriate action.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Now look, the military doesn't release statistics on how well some of its military technology works, but there are officers who will be quoted saying that yes, project angel fire saved lives, but the reason why we decided to do this story is because it's not just a military thing, right? Like with a lot of these technologies, they maybe start in the military, but then they trickle down all the way down to all of us. And actually in this case, trickled down to Dayton, Ohio.

Jad Abrumad:

Ross Group Incorporated, do think that's it?

Manoush Zomorodi:

By his first name?

Jad Abrumad:

Yeah, it'd be weird.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Oh, you got to go with McNutt. Producer, Andy mills and I actually went to Dayton, Ohio to visit Ross at his business. Persistent surveillance system, [crosstalk 00:07:40].

Jad Abrumad:

Persistent surveillance systems. Right? That feels Orwellian. Yep.

Ross McNutt:

These are the lenses, and the motors here basically control it.

Manoush Zomorodi:

So first we went over to his workshop where he actually works and makes the cameras.

Ross McNutt:

These are more powerful than some of the best military systems.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Like we could see him actually making them and how they get attached to the bottoms of the airplanes.

Jad Abrumad:

Oh. So many airplanes.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Then we went over to the hangar where he has all the airplanes. Beautiful.

Ross McNutt:

Overall, we've got 27 airplanes we operate.

Manoush Zomorodi:

He owns his own airport. Yeah. Yeah.

Ross McNutt:

After you guys.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Oh my God. It's big. And then he showed us their command center, and this is where you have a bunch of people sitting in front of these enormous screens. This is like your viewing room?

Ross McNutt:

Yeah.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And this is where all the plane pictures end up because Ross's basic idea in taking this technology from Fallujah to a city like Dayton, Ohio is basically this:

Barack Obama:

US cities have just as large a problem as we do in Afghanistan and Iraq, only it's not IEDs, it's crime.

Richard Biehl:

We've had a lot of major events this year. We've had four officer-involved shootings so far this year. Our homicides are up this year.

Manoush Zomorodi:

So this is Dayton police chief Richard Biehl.

Richard Biehl:

B-I-E-H-L.

Manoush Zomorodi:

I talked to him last summer. A couple of years ago, Ross called them up and was like, look,

Ross McNutt:

A city like Dayton, Ohio, we've got 28,000 crimes a year, about 10,000 part one crimes.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Murder, rape, assault ...

Ross McNutt:

10,000 part one crimes comes out to be $480 million a year.

Manoush Zomorodi:

But McNutt is like for about the price of a police helicopter ...

Ross McNutt:

We believe that we would be able to decrease crime by 30 to 40%. 30% decrease in that is $155 million a year.

Manoush Zomorodi:

The Dayton police were like,

Richard Biehl:

Alrighty!

Manoush Zomorodi:

Let's give it a shot.

Richard Biehl:

We basically set up a test in June of 2012 for a five day flight. [crosstalk 00:09:38] just to see for ourselves what it was capable of doing.

Manoush Zomorodi:

They sent the plane up in the air, it started doing its thing, just like in Fallujah, and within just a few hours ...

Richard Biehl:

There was a call of this breaking/entering in progress with a description of a van.

Angie Horn:

It was an older white box truck, just a regular, random moving truck.

Jad Abrumad:

This is Angie Horn. She's the one who called 911. She was just home on her lunch break, and she sees a moving van pull up in front of her neighbor's house. The guy gets out, breaks in, and starts moving furniture out.

Angie Horn:

So we immediately called the police. They got there relatively quickly from what I remember, but he had already taken off.

Jad Abrumad:

Now, normally in a case like this, the police would be like, well, how do we follow him? We don't know where he went. But in this case, the police contact persistent surveillance systems, and ultimately they get connected to this guy.

Alex B:

My name is Alex Blasengame. I'm the senior analyst for the company.

Jad Abrumad:

Alex pulls up the image of Dean, zooms in, clicks backwards about five minutes until he sees this little grainy white dot appear in front of her neighbor's house.

Alex B:

This is the vehicle here that we're wanting to track.

Manoush Zomorodi:

I'm sorry, what vehicle? I barely see anything.

Alex B:

Right? So the image looks real blurry, but the human brain and the human eyes are very, very evolved to pick out movement.

Manoush Zomorodi:

You've got to understand that from two miles up, a car looks just like a random shape, people, they look like pixels. Alex has trained himself to pick out movement.

Alex B:

I'm going to put a tag down on where he's at.

Manoush Zomorodi:

He places an orange circle over that random little shape, and then click, click, click, he moves forward, forward, forward.

Alex B:

Follow him to his real time location.

Jad Abrumad:

Alex follows it up some roads, finds out that it is parked in a parking lot.

Alex B:

Six blocks away.

Jad Abrumad:

He calls up the people in the field goes, "Go over there." They get there. They see the guy. They see a truck full of stuff. They send one different cop over to pick up the witness. Witness goes, "Yep, that's the guy."

Alex Goldmark:

Oh, so at this point, who called?

Jad Abrumad:

Yeah, this is minutes later.

Alex Goldmark:

No kidding.

Jad Abrumad:

That could have been a murderer, right? That could have been an armed robber. It could have been a lot of things.

Alex Goldmark:

This is so weird. This is like having a super power. This is actually better than Batman. You can't go back and forth time. Mr. Superhero.

Manoush Zomorodi:

I just feel sad. It's like, we're all just these little dots. It just seems like the antithesis of what a lot of police departments seem to be trying to do in the aftermath of Ferguson and Staten Island and other horrific things that have happened, which is getting the police on the streets, making personal connections, creating relationships.

Ross McNutt:

There's nothing in this system that prevents you from having effective community policing at the same time. And oh, by the way, this may dramatically help that community relations. The reason they're putting body cams on police officers is to try to get the police officers to be more respectful because they can be seen. Well, this lets us watch all the officers in a 25 square mile area all at once.

Robert Krulwich:

But then you can watch so many other people all at once.

Alex Goldmark:

Here's other things that people in Dayton do: like Romeo and Juliet, they sometimes meet without their parents' permission in the playground and smooch. There are going to be divorced lawyers who are going to be tracking errant spouses. There are going to be traffic police who are watching who goes through the red light. There are going to be realtors who are wondering how many tenants do you really have in that building? And I guess the thought might be that if the information exists, that will show what my pixel was actually doing, then I'm a little less free.

Ross McNutt:

There is a clear trade off between security and privacy. And you know, in our major cities where we have tens of thousands of major crimes, you are a lot less free when you can't leave your house at night.

Alex Goldmark:

There's obviously a huge advantage to knowing what you know, but then there's a huge thing to knowing what you know, like knowledge all by itself is sort of a, is pregnant with funny ...

Jad Abrumad:

You know, here's my problem with this, with all of these privacy stories: it's like, when you're talking about these technologies, the advantages are always so concrete, and the tradeoffs always feel so abstract. I feel like there's something being lost here, but I can never quite put my finger on it. It's weird.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Oh, Jad, that weirdness that you're feeling ...

Jad Abrumad:

Yes.

Manoush Zomorodi:

It's going to get a lot weirder.

Alex Goldmark:

We'll be right back.

Jenny:

Hey, this is Jenny Lynnhand from Round Lake, New York. Radiolab is supported, in part, by the Alfred P Sloan Foundation enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan www.sloan.org.

Jad Abrumad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

Jad Abrumad:

This is Radiolab, and we'll continue our collaboration with Manoush Zomorodi and Alex Goldmark from Note to Self.

Robert Krulwich:

And the subject is and remains Eyes in the Sky.

Jad Abrumad:

And the situation when we left it, one of our producers, Andy Mills had gone down to Dayton, Ohio to talk with Ross McNutt, check out his technology, and after the Dayton demo, what were you, how were you feeling about things?

Manoush Zomorodi:

Well, I was feeling like you have not convinced me. I am not going for this, and then I saw Juárez, Mexico, and that, well, I mean, that's what made me start to think otherwise.

Jad Abrumad:

Juárez, especially at the time we did this, they averaged 300 murders a month and 52 kidnappings, a week.

Ross McNutt:

300 murders a month.

Jad Abrumad:

Yeah.

Manoush Zomorodi:

McNutt and the gang, they got a contract, we've been asked not to say for whom, and they went down South, set themselves up in a hotel room, got the plane up in the sky, and then whoever the client was started bringing them crime reports.

Alex B:

So this is kind of what you never want to see happen, but this is kind of why the system was up.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Alex pulls up on the screen, this very grainy, aerial shot of Juárez.

Alex B:

This is Juárez, Mexico.

Manoush Zomorodi:

It looks like any city, right? You've got grids of streets and cars and houses, and then over on the left of the screen, he points to this dark little square. It's a vehicle that's going down the street.

Alex B:

This is a female police officer. She was actually headed to work on this morning. So we'll kind of go through it here.

Manoush Zomorodi:

He starts at the beginning, and you see there's her house, and her car is parked outside. You see that like teeny little pixel gets in her car.

Alex B:

She pulls out of her driveway. That was her home.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Starts to drive to work. And then ...

Alex B:

Right when she leaves, if you look up here ...

Manoush Zomorodi:

He points to the upper left of the screen.

Alex B:

Several cars were parked up on the corner. As soon as she left her driveway, those cars become active.

Jad Abrumad:

So this is a stakeout for ...

Alex B:

Yeah. They were waiting for her to leave.

Manoush Zomorodi:

He's so zoomed in that you can see it's like a tictac moving down the street, and then two more tic-tacs come alongside.

Alex B:

Until they get right about here.

Manoush Zomorodi:

He's clicking forward on the photo, and you see ...

Alex B:

That right there is a speed bump.

Manoush Zomorodi:

These cars just inch closer.

Alex B:

So she'll kind of hesitate there, which is unfortunate.

Manoush Zomorodi:

So she's driving down the street, and there's these cars following behind her. And then there's this car up ahead of her.

Alex B:

A vehicle that had been parked here for 15, 20, 30 minutes, all of the sudden, backs out into traffic and seemingly slows them down, almost gets in an accident right here, which gives these guys enough time to catch up. This is where they're going to pull up beside her.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And then suddenly, Alex says ...

Alex B:

Right there.

Manoush Zomorodi:

This is the point where ...

Alex B:

Here, the first car pulls up and shoots her multiple times.

Manoush Zomorodi:

She was shot in the head.

Alex B:

Multiple times in the head right here. She's actually going to roll through the intersection.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Her car continues to go. Even though she's been shot in the head.

Alex B:

There was a parked car behind this tree, and you'll actually see this parked car move when she runs into it. And then these guys take off.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Yeah, it was not fun to watch. It was upsetting. But what happens next made me really start to understand what this technology is capable of.

Ross McNutt:

I just wanted to, real quickly, just show you some of the others.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Ross walks in. He takes that moment, horrible moment. And then he starts to like shoot back and forth in time.

Ross McNutt:

Suspect car one, here's his path before the murder, here's his path after the murder.

Manoush Zomorodi:

He actually takes the two cars from that murder, and you see, he draws on the map. You see that they meet up with two other cars ...

Ross McNutt:

See that guy there?

Manoush Zomorodi:

... that were involved in a different murder. Now one murder becomes two, two cars become four.

Ross McNutt:

Car stops.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And if you follow all four of these cars, drawing lines, as they move through the city, you find out who they meet up with and four becomes eight, eight becomes 16. So on and so on. And you have all these lines crisscrossing the city. And then you see that a whole bunch of those cars are headed to one place.

Ross McNutt:

This house, this house appears to be their cartel headquarters.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And that's when you start to think, well, that's how you have to take something like this down. It's not a one shot thing like solving the crime. It's about cracking an entire system.

andy producer:

In fact, this is Andy here. When I was doing some research into this, I made a bunch of calls, and I spoke with this one governmental source who told me that this information that Ross had just showed us, like it was one of the primary tools used to dismantle an entire cartel in Juárez. And that apparently the leader of that cartel was responsible for something like 1500 murders.

Robert Krulwich:

Whoa.

Jad Abrumad:

So you've got to ask again, so how are you feeling at this point? Are you happy or scared or? I don't know.

Manoush Zomorodi:

I felt ashamed of myself because I thought, oh, the reason why I'm so excited about it is it because it's in a country where I don't live, and I'm an outsider, and I think of it as being messed up. So it's okay for them, but it's still not okay for us. What did you think, Andy?

andy producer:

I mean like, this is where I stopped being a good journalist because I picked a side. It feels wrong to not solve these crimes that we can solve.

Robert Krulwich:

And what if this plane was on top of New York? Good.

Manoush Zomorodi:

God, really?

Jad Abrumad:

For me it became ...

Manoush Zomorodi:

But do you remember like after 9/11, when you'd walk down the street and you'd hear the F16s circling over the city, and I just remember the feeling in my stomach was like nausea. I felt sick. It felt gross. It felt like we had no autonomy over ourselves. And at that point I was scared enough that I could live with it. But right now I don't feel that way. And look, it's a very privileged position to be able to say that we shouldn't have it. I get that.

andy producer:

That's what I'm saying. Like I became a convert because somebody got kidnapped today. And if we had an eye in the sky, we might be able to get the kid back in a few minutes hours compared to like, you see the stats on Amber alerts? They're not good.

Manoush Zomorodi:

But what we're talking about is - and I'm not saying that I'm anti McNutt at all, but what I'm saying is, it's very easy to paint it as we're going to get bad guys. And I just don't think it's that simple.

Manoush Zomorodi:

The McNutt and co., they seem like decent people. They have set limitations for themselves. They have said they will not use photography that could get any closer. They've made a moral choice with that. How do we know other people will make the same moral choice and ...

andy producer:

Are you saying that even though this thing might solve a ton of crimes, might save lives, it's still not worth the risk because it just asks a level of trust in government that we shouldn't, we shouldn't give. Is that what you're saying?

Manoush Zomorodi:

For now? Yes.

Robert Krulwich:

Go back to Dayton. What happened in Dayton?

Manoush Zomorodi:

Well ...

Alex Goldmark:

I was pretty impressed. I was pretty impressed.

Manoush Zomorodi:

After that five day demo, the police chief Richard Biehl ...

Richard Biehl:

I recommended that we enter into a contract with persistent surveillence systems.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And so, they took it to the city commission,

Carrie Greg:

Hi, this is Carrie Greg.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Oh, Hey, Carrie it's Manoush in New York, and according to Carrie Greg,

Carrie Greg:

Director of the city commission office for the city of Dayton, Ohio ...

Manoush Zomorodi:

Committee saw the presentation, and they liked it.

Carrie Greg:

The city commission was interested in the presentation.

Manoush Zomorodi:

But they decided that before they go forward, they should have a public forum, so they could just sort of hear from the people.

Carrie Greg:

There was about 75 or so people there.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And he says that the people of Dayton much like the people of Radiolab and Note to Self, were very divided. Okay.

Carrie Greg:

A quarter of the people were supportive of this technology, and they were frustrated with the amount of crime. Their belief was, I'm not doing anything wrong, so I don't care what people see me doing. We want this implemented, and we want it implemented very broadly.

Manoush Zomorodi:

So a quarter of them were like bring it on. They were basically in the Andy camp, but then there was another group, slightly smaller. But not by much ...

Carrie Greg:

maybe 15% ...

Manoush Zomorodi:

That was the Robert and Manoush camp.

Carrie Greg:

who believed that this was a grotesque invasion of privacy,and some of the people spoke in very impassioned terms. So,

andy producer:

yay.

Carrie Greg:

I think calling it grotesque invasion of privacy would pretty much reflect the way, the way this group was feeling.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And this group too.

Carrie Greg:

And that there was no way that you could trust government with this volume of information and this breadth of information.

Manoush Zomorodi:

So you had your pros and your cons, and the rest of the people, like the majority.

Carrie Greg:

Maybe had some feelings one way or another, but just didn't have enough information. And so they came and kind of asked questions.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Like how long will persistent surveillance systems keep the images? 90 days. How far can they zoom in? Can they see my face? No. So they had a lot of questions, which Carrie seems to think that they could have answered. They could have gotten everybody on board, but in the end, even though the room was basically divided into three parts, the naysayers were so loud and so impassioned that they sort of defined the conversation.

Robert Krulwich:

As we do.

Carrie Greg:

So we took that lesson to understand that there was going to be some significant education that was going to be needed and some significant hurdles that were going to have to be crossed before we were able to do a broad-based implementation. And based on the amount of time that was going to have to be spent, we decided there were other, more immediate techniques that could be used, that could be invested in, and we took the money that could have been spent on this and spent it on some other activities.

andy producer:

It seems like what you're saying is that it was just going to be too hard to get people over the hurdle. So like, eh, it's not worth it.

Richard Biehl:

Yeah. I think that's probably accurate.

Manoush Zomorodi:

So the plane is off the table, so to speak.

Richard Biehl:

It's off the table for right now, but that doesn't mean that it's never coming back on the table.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Which I think is fair to say is frustrating to him.

Ross McNutt:

Right now, we've got about $150 million with a proposal sitting out there for a large number of cities, Baltimore, Philadelphia ... We've been to Moscow. We've been to London ... that we're waiting for them to make decisions on. We've done Compton ... We've been to Rome ...

Jad Abrumad:

Compton's like maybe; Juárez is like maybe. Dayton is like maybe.

Ross McNutt:

There's a whole lot of maybes out there.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And what McNutt and his team are doing now, and this is actually what they were doing when we went to visit them. They're analyzing ...

Carrie Greg:

What we're doing here in Dayton is we are looking at a turnpike or something.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Yeah. Traffic in New Jersey. They're studying traffic problems.

Carrie Greg:

We look at congested areas which are typically, especially in that part of the country, exits and OnRamps, any kind of junction in a highway.

Robert Krulwich:

No, sometimes you just want to scream.

Robert Krulwich:

Since we did that story, things have happened, Manoush.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Indeed they have.

Robert Krulwich:

So I've invited you back here to fill us in on further developments of which there have been gigantic ones. Very recently.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Yes. And McNutt says, not just since we aired that episode, but because we aired that episode.

Robert Krulwich:

What do you mean?

Manoush Zomorodi:

Well, after this episode first went out, it turns out that there were a couple very wealthy philanthropists listening to RadioLab, and they picked up the phone, they called him and they said, we would like to be the people that bank roll you giving this a try in an American city somewhere.

Robert Krulwich:

So they, just said, we'll write you a check if you can land the city, we'll give you the money?

Manoush Zomorodi:

Pretty much.

Robert Krulwich:

Wait a second. Who are these people?

Manoush Zomorodi:

They are Laura and John Arnold. They're young. They're in their early forties. They're in Texas, and by the time that they contacted McNutt, he had already done, as we said, he'd already done a very extensive look at cities across the nation, looking for the one that had the biggest crime issue. And as he puts it, the strongest political leadership, somebody who would be willing to put up with the firestorm that would inevitably ensue. Baltimore fit the bill. It had a mayor who said she was very tough on crime. Shootings were actually up in Baltimore by 72% last year. So he went back to Baltimore and said, if I can get the money for this, are you game? And they were like, sure.

Robert Krulwich:

So the rich folks were willing to give money to the mayor of Baltimore, to put a plane in the sky to take pictures of Baltimore for a discrete period.

Manoush Zomorodi:

No, not quite. So it didn't go to the government or any elected officials. Nobody needed to sign off on this in the city of Baltimore, other than the police commissioner, which is why he was able to do it without telling any of the city council members or the mayor, or ...

Robert Krulwich:

Wait a second. So Baltimore's police department, without telling the mayor or the city council or anybody decides to contract with this fellow supported by two people in Texas to put a plane in the sky to gaze down at Baltimore and everyone in Baltimore. And they just don't mention this to the mayor.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Yeah.

Robert Krulwich:

Did McNutt move to Baltimore and do this?

Manoush Zomorodi:

Oh yeah. He moved to Baltimore, and they set up across the street from the police station, and had about a dozen analysts sitting there for two months, looking at everything that was going on in Baltimore.

Robert Krulwich:

So they did see some stuff during this period? Give me an example of something bad that happened that they ...

Manoush Zomorodi:

So here's one that we know about: which is that there was an elderly brother and sister. The woman is 90 years old. The brother is 82. They were near this bus stop, and they actually got in the line of fire. They got gunned down by a shooter. And so they ended up tracking a couple cars, but then later they think the police say, actually we think he got away on foot. I think it was a witness on the ground who said that they thought that had left on foot and so rewind.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And they see a dot scrambling to get away from the scene. It goes down the street. It passes a Subway sandwich shop. It goes between these two houses, stops at a car that's parked, and then it ends up at, they later discovered the home of a woman. And turns out her boyfriend is somebody who has a long criminal record. And so there are over 700 CCTV cameras on the streets in Baltimore. And so the idea is that it's sort of a support mechanism, right? Like they get the high level, then it goes to the street. Then you've got the officers on the ground.

Robert Krulwich:

Oh, I get it. So if the shooter shoots and then gets in the car and goes down Elm Street, you have cameras down on Elm Street, and you can see maybe the car and then the drivers license and maybe even capture the face.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Exactly.

Robert Krulwich:

And did they eventually arrest this person?

Manoush Zomorodi:

So he crossed state lines, and the feds picked him up.

Robert Krulwich:

Okay. So they've made the arrest. They go into court and they say to the judge, okay, we obtained information about this suspect in part through a spy plane, does the stuff that they gathered during this few months, is that now going before judges and becoming evidence in arrests and in prosecutions?

Manoush Zomorodi:

Well, not yet. We talked to the state's attorney's office. They got a briefing about a month ago from the police about what McNutt had been up to. And they also told us that there are five open and pending cases where this surveillance technology was used. Police are using it, and they say, this is the state's attorney's office, that they're looking forward to learning more about what McNutt actually does, and that they are trying to determine whether in fact, all those pictures could be used in some way at trial, but they're not ready to say yes, this absolutely will pass legal muster in a trial.

Robert Krulwich:

God, the other objection that I guess I was thinking about was that the defense, as a matter of justice, as a matter of the Fourth Amendment, well you know this is going to come up at some point.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Yeah.

Robert Krulwich:

Then the defense lawyers would say, wait a second. This evidence against my client was obtained without not only his or her permission, but without anybody's permission. And the entire town is now in effect searchable during, on sunny days. And did the founding fathers want that to happen?

Manoush Zomorodi:

To be honest, the Supreme Court hasn't seen a ton of these mass surveillance cases. But actually Robert, I mean, I happen to have the Fourth Amendment here, and I want to read it to you.

Robert Krulwich:

It says you can't, the searches and seizures are prohibited.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Yeah. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause supported by oath or affirmation and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

Robert Krulwich:

So by that token, it would say people to be searched: everyone in Baltimore, places to be looked at: every place in Baltimore oaths to be obtained ahead of time: blanket. That's a pretty radical thing.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Yeah. And when you put it like that, no wonder there's very likely to be inevitable, big, legal, public debate over whether this is the answer to Baltimore's crime problem. McNutt says, he thinks very, very soon the police are going to release an evaluation report, looking at the effectiveness of his planes.

Manoush Zomorodi:

He thinks that whatever Baltimore decides, that's going to set a precedent for midsize cities that are struggling across the United States.

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

Manoush Zomorodi:

And I'm Manoush Zomorodi from Note to Self. You can go to radiolab.org for more information about the McNutt. And also please, I hope you'll check out notetoselfradio.org. Special thanks to Alex Goldmark, also to Dan Tucker and George Schultz.

Robert Krulwich:

By the way, the piece that we just listened to was produced by Andy mills. He has produced any number of RadioLab stories over the years, and he has decided to move to the New York Times. He's been a tremendous boon to us. Over and over again, he's brought a worldview and a sensibility that we didn't have before he came, not really. And now he's going to work for that obscure newspaper, but nevertheless, we wish him all the best. And, thank you Andy so much. And thanks of course for listening.

inaudible:

My name is Miss [inaudible 00:34:34] I live on [inaudible 00:34:35] in Dayton. I'm here to register my concern regarding the airborne surveillance that was discussed earlier.

Speaker 15:

A great eye, lidless, breathed flames.

Speaker 30:

I'd also like to register my concern with the so-called surveillance program. This was the stuff of science fiction when Orwell wrote 1984.

automated:

What policies does Dayton have in place to prevent using the data in a racially biased way ?

automated:

To go to the next message, press six.

Manoush Zomorodi:

Hey guys, it's Manoush the host of Note to Self calling you from the eighth floor at WNYC studios. And I just think you need me to tell everyone that Radiolab is produced by Jad Albumrad. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Soren Wheeler is senior editor. Jamie York is our senior producer. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Lana Farrell, David Gebel, Max Kielty, Robert Krulwich, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser, Malissa O'Donnell, Arianne Wack and Molly Webster with help from the Nigar Monteleigh, Alexandra Lee Young, Charu Sinha, W. Harry Fortuna and Perseus Berlin. Wow. They even make my name sound easy. Our fact checkers are Eva Dasher and Michelle Harris. Andy Mills, we will miss you. Bye.

Answering machine:

End of message.

 

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