A US-based military company that provides phone tracking devices and other equipment to US immigration authorities and the Israeli military. Used to provide surveillance technologies for the US-Mexico border and Israeli military checkpoints.
L3Harris Technologies is a U.S.-based military contractor that manufactures surveillance equipment and electronic warfare technology for military and law enforcement applications. The company formed in 2019 as the merger of L3 Technologies (formerly L-3 Communications) and Harris Corporation. At the time, it was the largest merger ever in the defense industry, and made the newly formed company the world’s 9th largest military contractor as of 2021. L3Harris has customers in over 100 countries globally and reported revenue of $18.1 billion in 2020, 82% of which was from military, intelligence, and homeland security contracts.
Since the early 2000s, both L3 and Harris have been consistently contracted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to provide surveillance and monitoring technologies. L3Harris was highlighted as one of the fourteen main border security companies in a 2019 report published by the Transnational Institute and No Mas Muertes. Between 2006 and July 2021, the combined company was awarded 136 CBP and ICE contracts, totalling $308.2 million, as well as six blanket purchase orders potentially worth up to $6 billion.
Tracking Immigrants using Cell-Site Simulators
L3Harris provides cell-site simulators to military, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies around the world, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Also known as “IMSI Catchers” or Stingrays, the most popular device, cell-site simulators mimic cell phone towers and make phones in their area connect to them instead of legitimate towers. This enables their users to pinpoint the location of a specific mobile device, or to capture all numbers in their certain area. More advanced models can also intercept or disrupt communications.
The use of this technology by federal agencies did not require a warrant and was kept secret until 2015. However, it is known that the FBI has been using cell-site simulators and lending them to local law enforcement at least since 1995. ICE had Harris Stingray devices at least since 2005 and has been using them to locate undocumented immigrants.
As early as 2006, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was giving local law enforcement grants to buy their own cell-site simulators. While many police departments across the U.S. secretly used Stingrays and other similar Harris products, the company started quietly refusing to sell them to local law enforcement agencies in 2020.
In 2011, ICE bought from Harris $1.5 million worth of additional Stingray devices. Between 2010 and 2014, DHS spent more than $24 million on this technology and had a total of 124 cell-site simulators, most of which were presumably Harris-made Stingray and the more advanced Hailstorm devices. While most of these devices were installed in ground vehicles, ICE also mounted Stingrays on aircraft.
Around 2016, ICE upgraded its devices from the Stingray to a new Harris-made model called Crossbow. Within 9 months in 2019, ICE used its cell-site simulators 134 times, locating at least 80 people, 22 of whom were arrested, according to the ACLU. As of January 2020, ICE was still using the Crossbow.
L3Harris provides multiple additional products and services to DHS. In 2019, DHS awarded the company a 5-year indefinite delivery contract worth a potential $3 billion for tactical communication networks. This was an extension of an earlier 5-year contract DHS awarded Harris in 2013. In 2018, ICE bought from L3Harris $4.8 million worth of “over the air tracking equipment.”
Past Border Militarization through Blimps and Drones
Until 2017, Harris Corporation was the primary contractor for CBP’s Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border. Hovering 10,000 feet above ground, TARS are large helium-filled blimp-like unmanned aircraft equipped with surveillance systems for long-range intelligence gathering. TARS units are installed in eight sites along the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Some TARS blimps are equipped with video cameras that CBP uses to detect and track pedestrians and vehicles.
The usage of TARS blimps on the border started as a program of the U.S. Air Force, and CBP assumed responsibility for it in 2013. The first contract of the current system was awarded to ITT Corp in 2008. The company split in 2011 and the contract went to Exelis Corp, which in turn was acquired by Harris in 2015. Two years later, in 2017, Harris sold this part of its business to private equity firm Veritas Capital, which renamed it Peraton Technologies.
In 2021, CBP announced the program could eventually be discontinued because it was too expensive and newer technologies in the market could easily replace it. However, in June 2021, CBP awarded Peraton a contract worth a potential $32 million to provide services for CBP’s Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border.
Until 2021, L3Harris had also provided training for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones), including the ones used by CBP. L3 designed the Predator/Reaper Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS), a flight simulator for General Atomics’ Predator and Reaper drones, also used by CBP to monitor the U.S.-Mexico border. The program is operated by the U.S. Air Force but also trained CBP agents. In June 2021, L3Harris sold its military training business, which includes PMATS, to Canadian company CAE Inc.
L3 was also involved in CBP;s defunct Secure Border Initiative Network (SBINet). The company was subcontracted in 2006 by Boeing, the main SBINet contractor, but the entire project was terminated in 2011.
Weapon Components Used in Attacks on Civilians and War Crimes
L3Harris components are integrated into multiple weapon systems used by the Israeli military, including Israel’s air-to-ground bombs as well as its main warplanes, battle tanks, and warships. These weapons have been used repeatedly in attacks on densely populated civilian areas, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties in Gaza and Lebanon, in what at times amounts to war crimes.
L3Harris makes components for the Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) guidance kit, a Boeing product which converts unguided air-to-ground bombs into precision “smart” bombs. In 2012, L3 subsidiary KDI Precision Products participated in a $647 million contract to sell at least 11,500 JDAM bomb fuses to Israel through the U.S. foreign military sales program.
Israel has repeatedly used JDAM-guided bombs against civilians in Gaza. During Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, these bombs killed at least 166 people, including 89 children, in what the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted as potential war crimes.
During Israel’s May 2021 assault on Gaza, JDAM-guided bombs were one of the main weapons used, and were directly linked to the killing of at least 44 civilians in the bombing of al-Wahda street. Israel also used JDAM-guided bombs to destroy a high-rise that housed several media headquarters, including the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera, in addition to residential apartments. Several of Israel’s attacks during this assault amounted to war crimes according to Human Rights Watch.
L3Harris claims to be one of the top five suppliers for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 aircraft, one of Israel’s primary warplanes. The F-35 was used for the first time in a major assault on Gaza in May 2021, in which Israeli airstrikes were the principal cause of killing. L3Harris manufactures over 1600 components for each F-35 plane, including weapon release systems.
L3 also manufactured the management systems for Israel’s Sa’ar 5 and Sa’ar 6 warships, made by Northrop Grumman and ThyssenKrupp, respectively. These warships form the main battle force of the Israeli Navy, which enforces the illegal naval siege of the Gaza Strip. According to U.N. human rights experts, the siege is a form of collective punishment in violation of international law. Sa’ar 5 warships also participated in the Israeli attack on the unarmed Free Gaza Flotilla in 2010, resulting in the killing of ten humanitarian activists. The International Criminal Court stated war crimes were likely committed during the attack.
L3Harris’s former subsidiary L3 Combat Propulsion Systems manufactured the engine of several ground combat vehicles, including the Merkava IV, Israel’s main battle tank. Israel used this tank extensively in its 2006 invasion of Lebanon and its 2012, 2014, and 2021 assaults on Gaza. Artillery and tank shelling killed at least 81 children during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, according to Defense for Children International. Israeli soldiers also reported using tanks to purposefully destroy Palestinian agricultural lands.
The Merkava diesel engine was produced between 2002-2006 by L3 Combat Propulsion Systems (formerly a division of General Dynamics) together with Rolls-Royce subsidiary MTU. In 2011, L3 received a multi-year contract from the Israeli Ministry of Defense to supply diesel engines for its Merkava tanks and armored personnel carriers. The value and length of the contract are classified. L3Harris sold Combat Propulsion Systems in July 2021 to Renk AG, a German transmission manufacturer owned by private equity firm Triton.
In the past, L3 also supplied Israel with screening technologies used at several illegal military checkpoints in the occupied Palestinian territory. The company’s SafeView body scanner machines have been installed in the Qalandia, Bethlehem, and Sha’ar Efraim (Irtach) checkpoints in the occupied West Bank. In addition, L3 SafeView and ProVision scanners have been installed in the Erez checkpoint in the Gaza Strip. In 2020, L3Harris sold its airport security business, which includes the SafeView and ProVision systems to Leidos.
From 1999 to August 2021, L3Harris and its predecessors spent $131.9 million on lobbying in relation to issues such as ICE radio procurement, the Intelligence Authorization Act, DHS appropriations for communications and electronic systems, night vision systems research, and border security, among others.
In addition to its lobbying expenses, L3Harris also has a Political Action Committee (PAC) which spent $9.5 million from 1977 to August 2021 in campaign contributions. Prior to its 2019 merger, L3 Technologies spent an additional $4.9 million from 1997 to 2020. Both PACs donated to both the Democratic and Republican parties through direct contributions and other PACs.
Some board members have served in high ranking positions in the U.S. military, including Senior Military Assistant of the Department of Defense. Also several top-level professionals have served in the U.S. Army and the Navy at operational positions.
Titan Corporation, which L3 acquired in 2005 and renamed L-3 Services, provided translators for interrogations conducted by CACI International at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, which the U.S. military operated in Iraq following its 2003 invasion of the country. L-3 Services later became an independent company named Engility, which was acquired by SAIC in 2019.
In 2008, a group of 72 Iraqi civilians sued L-3 Services and CACI for “torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; war crimes; assault and battery; sexual assault and battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent hiring and supervision; and negligent infliction of emotional distress.” The case, Al-Quraishi, et al. v. Nakhla and L-3 Services, was settled in 2012.
A previous similar case against the two companies, Saleh, et al. v. Titan, et al., which was filed in 2004 by more than 250 Iraqi civilians, was dismissed in 2011. A third case, Al Shimari v. CACI, is still ongoing as of 2021, although L-3 Services is no longer a defendant in that case.
- On April 26, 2017, University of Wisconsin-Madison students passed a resolution calling the university to divest from private prisons and corporations that build border walls, including L-3 Communications.
- On February 22, 2016, the Students’ Society of Mcgill University general assembly voted to divest from companies “profiting from violations of Palestinian human rights,” including L-3 Communications. It was later voted against and nullified in an online ratification.