National guard spy plane monitored George Floyd protest in Sacramento suburb


A peaceful protest in a sleepy and affluent suburb that is home to the head of the California national guard was among four demonstrations monitored by national guard spy planes, according to a newspaper report.

The planes flew over several cities in early June, to monitor street protests following the police killing of George Floyd, triggering concerns the military was improperly gathering intelligence on US citizens, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Three reconnaissance planes watched demonstrations in Minneapolis, Phoenix and Washington DC that drew large crowds and were marred by violence. But the target of the fourth plane was the prosperous Sacramento suburb of El Dorado Hills, where much smaller rallies were entirely peaceful, the Times said.

Local and state authorities have not explained how and why that neighborhood was chosen when other cities that saw property destruction and street clashes amid large protests, including Los Angeles and Oakland, were not.

The head of the California national guard, Maj Gen David S Baldwin, lives in El Dorado Hills. In addition to deploying the RC-26B reconnaissance plane, the guard sent a Lakota helicopter to hover over the suburb, according to officials and records. The aircraft were requested by the El Dorado county sheriff’s office, state records show.

A spokesman for Governor Gavin Newsom, who oversees the state national guard, criticized the operation.

“The use of the RC-26 to meet the sheriff’s request for aerial support to provide situational awareness for law enforcement is concerning and should not have happened,” Nathan Click said. “It was an operational decision made without the approval – let alone awareness – of the governor. After the incident, operational policies and protocols were reaffirmed and strengthened to ensure RC-26 aircraft are not used for these incidents again.”

Click did not say if the governor’s office was examining Baldwin’s role in the matter.

Baldwin told the Times he didn’t recall approving the mission. He said the fact he lived in El Dorado Hills had “nothing to do with” the deployment of the RC-26B or the Lakota helicopter.

After questions from Congress about the flights, an air force inspector general’s report concluded that the planes weren’t capable of capturing “distinguishing personal features of individuals” and did not violate rules barring the military from collecting intelligence on US citizens.

The report did not include examination of whether the mission to El Dorado Hills was warranted. The report states that the mission grew out of a “high priority” request by the state Office of Emergency Services, on behalf of the El Dorado sheriff. According to the report, the sheriff’s office said it needed support for deputies tracking demonstrations.

Five current and former guard officers with knowledge of the flights said they knew of no justifiable reason for the mission.

“El Dorado Hills was the most monitored place in California,” said Dan Woodside, a recently retired pilot who flew RC-26Bs. “Why was that? What was the threat?”



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