Spy planes overhead still watching Minneapolis. Why?

Almost a year ago, the FBI admitted it was behind a “mystery plane” circling over several locations in the Twin Cities for a few days, ending a social media firestorm in which people demanded to know who owned the plane and what it was doing.

Curiously, once the FBI said “it’s us,” the questioning pretty much ended. Apparently, we don’t mind the government spying on us as much as we dislike someone we don’t know spying on us.

Now, BuzzFeed has put together a clearer picture of how extensive this spying operation is. It’s extensive in the Minneapolis area…

Graphic: BuzzFeed

Why Minneapolis? Good question, because a look at the national picture shows only a few cities in the country are getting the spy-in-the-sky treatment.

Graphic: BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed said after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., two spy planes showed up 90 minutes later, circling the home of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik for hours. Later, three planes circled the mosque the couple attended.

BuzzFeed says it sees a common trait of the cities selected for surveillance.

In the months before the San Bernardino attack, some of the government’s surveillance planes circled over other neighborhoods with large Muslim populations. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for instance, there was a clear circle above Little Kabul in Fremont, home to the largest concentration of ethnic Afghans in the nation.

The main concentrations of surveillance in Minneapolis, meanwhile, were above an area known as Little Mogadishu for its large Somali population.

But these neighborhoods did not come under heightened aerial scrutiny after the terrorist mayhem in Paris on Nov. 13, nor after San Bernardino. And on Thanksgiving Day, less than two weeks after the Paris attacks, with the nation under a State Department–issued global terrorism alert, federal surveillance planes almost entirely stopped flying, only to resume once the holiday was over.

But the article makes a big leap on the question of why weekends are generally spy-plane free. An ex-FBI agent suggests the pattern of flights leads him to suspect the FBI is enticing people to join fake terrorist organizations in the cities being watched. Interesting, but unsupported by any additional explanation.

While raising the question of whether Muslims are being targeted by the flights, it concludes there’s no clear pattern.

“When people think of surveillance, they think of the NSA, or of specific people being tracked, or mosques being infiltrated,” Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York, told BuzzFeed News. “They aren’t necessarily thinking about planes circling overhead of American cities and doing god knows what. It’s important for people to be aware.”

After last summer’s attention, Twin Citians are aware. But the fact that the attention paid to the flights dissipated quickly, suggests that most people don’t much care.

(h/t: Will Lager, Matthew Schneider)