It seems as if the FBI has been caught tracking a California student with outdated spy gear.
The ancient GPS device was discovered by 20-year-old Yasir Afifi during a routine oil change, who spotted a cluster of suspicious looking wires in close proximity to the right rear wheel of his vehicle.
Pictures of the device were then posted online, which prompted half-a-dozen FBI agents and police officers to swoop down on Afifi’s Santa Barbara apartment and demand the return of “federal property.”
The tracking device has been tentatively identified as the Orion Guardian ST820, which is manufactured by an electronics company known as Cobham.
A former FBI agent told Wired the GPS tracker was an “older model” that had long been replaced by newer devices which are typically placed in an engine compartment and hardwired to a car’s battery.
“It has to be able to be removed but also stay in place and not be seen,”
explained the former agent.
“[Yes], there’s always the possibility that the car will end up at a body shop or auto mechanic, so it has to be hidden well. It’s very rare when the guys find them.”
Which begs the obvious question: Why was the FBI using outdated spy equipment to track the movements of Yasir Afifi?
To be sure, there is no certainly no lack of advanced surveillance devices and methods available to US law enforcement officials.
For example, the FBI could have interfered with Afifi’s cell phone signal until he brought the smartphone in for repair.
This would have presented agents with an opportunity to install a clandestine Trojan capable of silently activating the unit’s GPS and relaying geolocation data back to the Bureau.
Alternatively, a GPS-based chip could have been placed in the smartphone, which would have allowed FBI personnel to intercept data while accurately following Afifi’s movements, regardless of software status, OS or device model.
Clearly, tracking a vehicle (with sub-par equipment), rather than a person, makes little – if no sense – in the fast-paced digitial world of 2010.