In-Depth: Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) introduced this bill to ensure that U.S. policymakers are adequately informed about the threat that drones pose to national security.
Criminals and terrorists are using drones for a range of criminal and terrorist activity, including dropping explosives and hazardous materials, ferrying drugs, conducting surveillance against critical infrastructure and other potential targets, and sending contraband into prisons. Drones appeal to these actors because they’re cheap, and the federal response to them isn’t coordinated yet:
“Unlike military drones that can cost more than $15 million and look like small airplanes, mini quadcopters can be obtained for a few hundred dollars—and their capabilities are exciting the imaginations of bad guys. Criminals have used drones to drop drugs into prisons. Mexican smugglers have flown them above the border to spy on the movement of patrolling federal officers. ISIS used them to drop crude bombs on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq and Syria… It is the widespread availability of commercial drones that poses the largest threat. Almost everybody who uses a drone in the U.S.—and the Federal Aviation Administration has licensed more than a million operators—flies by the rules. But not everyone, and perhaps the major lesson of 9/11 was to look for threats from unexpected places, especially overhead. Yet on drones, the federal response has been largely haphazard and behind the curve.”
This legislation passed the House Homeland Security Committee by unanimous consent and has the support of one House cosponsor, Rep. John Katko (R-NY).
In the previous Congress, the House passed this bill’s predecessor on a unanimous voice vote.
Of Note: The Heritage Foundation notes that recent UAS incidents have made it apparent that the U.S. needs more robust UAS detection, identification, and counter-attack processes:
“The increasingly common use of drones by terrorists to launch strikes abroad has raised concerns that domestic malefactors may plan and execute similar attacks. Some criminal actors, meanwhile, are using drones to smuggle drugs across the border or into prisons, or otherwise to support their nefarious enterprises. These incidents, as well as others, including unauthorized flights over sports stadiums and in controlled airspace near airports—and even a crash onto the White House lawn—have exposed both the vulnerability of sensitive facilities and critical infrastructure to hostile or recklessly operated UAS, and serious shortcomings in the capabilities of law enforcement and national security agencies to address these threats. Rectifying this will require national security and law enforcement agencies to develop robust means of detecting, identifying, and countering hostile or threatening UAS by disrupting, seizing control of, or even destroying them.”
The U.S. military has already faced the drone danger abroad: Special Operations forces fighting to retake Mosul from ISIS in fall 2016 faced attacks by fleets of small drones carrying grenades and miniaturized explosives.
In 2019, a drone attack carried out by Iranian proxies struck major Saudi Arabian oil facilities.
Domestically, the DOD has limited authority to protect its assets in the U.S. from UAV threats. However, these authorities don’t apply to DHS and the Justice Department.
Summary by Eric Revell with contributions from Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / scanrail