13News Now Investigates: Concerns about base security cameras

13News Now Investigative Reporter Laura Geller asked Navy officials about grainy and unclear security video from a world-class naval base released by the FBI in the Ashanti Billie case.

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- The case grabbed national attention: A 19-year-old woman disappears after last being seen entering a Naval base.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation sent out security camera video from Little Creek Amphibious Base, hoping the images would lead to critical information in the search for Ashanti Billie.

Nearly two weeks after her disappearance, police in Charlotte, N.C. found her body.

Many people noticed the footage was grainy and unclear and wondered how it could help, given its poor quality. A bigger question: How could such poor quality video come from cameras used to protect a world-class Naval installation?  

13News Now investigated why.

The FBI said the video shows Billie's Mini Cooper entering Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story Gate 3 at 4:44 a.m. on September 18. Authorities told us another video shows the vehicle coming out of the same gate about three minutes later.

The video led to a question: Would you have known what you were seeing if the FBI didn't specifically describe it?

When we posted the video, one person wanted us to find out why a military installation "has such piss poor video surveillance cameras?" He wrote: "This is a government installation right? There is no excuse for such sorry equipment!"

Another person wrote: "The video doesn't show who was driving her vehicle off base."

Another asked: "How is this the only footage of her on base?"

A viewer said, "My $20 eBay camera is far superior."

13News Now gave viewers a look at the videos from the Little Creek gate security cameras. We also let them look at surveillance camera footage not related to the case that groups other than the FBI have been released to us. The idea was to allow viewers to compare the videos based on quality and what they were able to distinguish in each one. 

The non-FBI videos included:

Surveillance footage from Norfolk taken in the middle of the night, like the Navy video 

It appears to show a van drive up slowly and a man run out.

Security video of a nighttime bank robbery attempt

The video is in color.

There are differences in a viewer's ability to make out items in the non-FBI videos when compared to the videos from the base.

Congressman Scott Taylor's district includes Little Creek. He met with Billie's parents while she still was missing. Some of Taylor's time as a Navy SEAL was spent on that base.

“You can't see who it is, right,” Taylor said as he looked at the footage from the security cameras there.

Taylor raised some of the same concerns our viewers, who are his constituents, expressed.

“There's obviously technology out there that has better capacity and technology for identification of people that are coming on the base,” Taylor stated.

We went straight to the Navy to find out why the base cameras appeared to record such low-quality footage and to find out if there will be any sort of review of the camera system.

"As a matter of policy, we do not discuss security measures or security equipment on our installations,” a spokeswoman responded. “However, I can tell you that appropriate security measures are in place to keep individuals who are not authorized on our installation from gaining access."

She went on to say open gates have armed security 24-hours a day and closed gates are secured.

We pushed for answers because the statement did not address the low-quality footage.

We got a short response: "We have nothing else to add at this time."

Taylor's office also reached out to the Navy for further clarification about the camera issue. His staff is waiting for new information.

“It's something that we're more than willing to ask and make sure that something gets implemented with better technology,” Taylor added.

In its response to 13News Now, the Navy said that the investigation into Billie's death is being led by the FBI and “it would be inappropriate for us to comment on any specifics," adding any comment may "impede the investigation.”

While our questions stemmed from the Billie case, they were not about the investigation, but about the situation with the security cameras on base.

© 2017 WVEC-TV


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