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US: FBI uses sophisticated surveillance to catch Portland man who lased ~25 aircraft

Multiple police and government agencies, led by the FBI, flew airplanes and installed surveillance cameras, in a sophisticated attempt to find the person who had aimed a laser pointer at aircraft over 25 times. The story, which reads like a spy novel, is laid out in an application for a search warrant that was filed by the FBI October 17 2013 with the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.

The operation was initiated in August 2013, after multiple incidents of lasers being aimed at aircraft around Portland International Airport. Four law enforcement aircraft were equipped with video surveillance cameras.

On August 10, five aircraft were targeted by a ground-based green laser. One was an Alaska Airlines flight; two were from the FBI and two were from the Portland Police Bureau. At the same time, a surveillance team was on the ground. Using information from the FBI/PBB aircraft sightings, the ground officers observed suspicious behavior from a male in the back yard of a duplex apartment. He was looking up at the sky. He removed something mounted from a stand or pole, and went inside. The laser strikes ceased afterwards.

Six days later, after reviewing the video, consulting Google Earth and Google Maps, and visiting the apartment complex, an FBI Special Agent determined that Apartment 35 -- the one previously surveilled -- was the most likely source of the laser. The apartment was occupied by 39-year-old Stephen Francis Bukucs.

Surveillance cameras were then secretly installed, watching Apartment 35. They could see in daylight, low light and nighttime (using infrared).
The FBI report then goes into great detail about Bukucs’ movements; for example, reporting that at 11:45:53 on August 21 2013, “Subject 1 walks outside and appears to walk his cat on a leash while smoking.” The report also notes times that aircraft in the vicinity were struck by lasers.

The report lists a number of days when laser incidents occurred but Bukucs’ actions could not be seen on the surveillance videos. Physical surveillance was done on September 14, but again while Bukucs had a clear view of an aircraft’s flight path, he was not observed aiming the laser.

Finally, on October 13, Bukucs was seen on video using a laser and aiming it at the sky at the approximate times that a United flight and a Jet Blue flight were hit by green laser light. Based on this, the FBI wrote up the October 17 search warrant asking to look for evidence in his apartment and automobile.

The search took place the next day. A green laser, a police scanner, and two black t-shirts were seized. Based on this evidence, and the surveillance records, Bukucs was arrested.

At a hearing on October 21, the judge was told that “when investigators arrested Bukucs, they learned he had gotten thrills listening to radio traffic about the incidents on a police scanner.” Bukucs told police he had pointed his laser at about 25 different planes before his arrest.

Bukucs pleaded not guilty to two counts of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft. If convicted, he faces up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

He was also suspended from his job as a security guard with G4S Secure Solutions (USA) Inc.

From the FBI affidavit and the Oregonian. The original LaserPointerSafety.com story of Bukucs’ arrest is here. Thanks to Kyle Garner for bringing this to our attention.