Socialite v Stingray: How the FBI found Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell

Ghislaine Maxwell was tracked down by the FBI to a secluded US hideaway using a controversial “stingray” device that intercepted GPS data from her mobile phone.

The British socialite, who is accused of helping traffic underage girls for Jeffrey Epstein, had bought a phone under the name “G Max” and used it to communicate with husband Scott Borgerson, her sister Isabel, and her lawyer, newly filed court documents reveal.

The 59-year-old, who is being held in a federal prison in New York after twice being denied bail, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The FBI filed an affidavit in support of an application for a search warrant a day before her July 2 arrest.

The agency wanted access to GPS and historical mobile data for Maxwell’s phone account, which had a northeastern Massachusetts postcode – within one square mile of her location.

However, they could not ascertain which exact house in the upscale Bradford area of New Hampshire she was staying and requested a further warrant to use a “stingray” device, also known as an “IMSI catcher”, to send and receive signals from nearby phones.

“The FBI does not know Maxwell’s current location and accordingly requires the information sought in this application in order to locate and arrest Maxwell,” the affidavit states.

The New Hampshire warrant would allow the FBI to “use an investigative device or devices capable of broadcasting signals that will be received by” Maxwell’s phone “or receiving signals from nearby cellular devices”, including Maxwell’s device.

“Such a device may function in some respects like a cellular tower, except that it will not be connected to the cellular network and cannot be used by a cell phone to communicate with others,” the affidavit states.

The stingray simulates a telephone mast and forces mobile phones in the immediate vicinity to connect to it instead of the actual mast. Once it connects, the device captures the phone’s exact location and the registered user’s identifying information.

The method is controversial as it can also gather information about the phones of bystanders nearby.

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