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Air Force denies surveillance plane gathered info on protests when flying over Portland

Air Force denies surveillance plane gathered info on protests when flying over Portland
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The Air Force said Friday that a surveillance plane that flew secret missions from an airport in Portland, Ore., amid protests there this week did not gather information about the demonstrations.

The branch said in a statement that the flight had been in the works for months and that the plane was on assignment for a program that tests equipment for U.S. Special Operations.

“This week the Air Force conducted previously planned test flights in the Northwest United States that required the environmental conditions typical of the region. This location was chosen several months ago due to the high likelihood of cloud cover desired for this equipment test,” said Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek.

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“The Dornier 328 aircraft, assigned to the Air Force Material Command’s 645th Aeronautical Engineering Group, was not gathering intelligence or conducting operations related to civil unrest in Portland, Oregon.” 

The plane arrived at Portland-Hillsboro Airport over the weekend and conducted five flights over Oregon between Tuesday and Thursday, according to public flight trackers.

The flights came under increased scrutiny amid a massive crackdown by the Trump administration over protests in Portland against systemic racism that were sparked by the death of George Floyd.

Critics have railed against the White House and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the use of federal agents, appearing in military-style uniforms, to arrest protesters. 

The Air Force flights often took times when protests were inactive, including in the early morning hours. The plane flew to Denver on Friday. 

DHS aircraft have been used over protests this year to collect information on the demonstrations.

The Air Force’s statement was first reported by The Washington Post.