In-Depth: Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) introduced this bill to ensure that U.S. policymakers are adequately informed about the threat that UAS poses to national security. At a House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations hearing on the domestic use of UAS in 2013, Rep. Richmond expressed concerns about the privacy implications of UAS.
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.”
The Heritage Foundation adds 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 Pentagon is already working to develop and deploy technologies to defeat drones, and plans to spend $401.2 million on counter-drone initiatives in the current fiscal year. DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says that DHS is already working to protect Americans from the emerging threat of drones:
“We know that terrorists are using drones overseas to advance plots and attacks, and we’ve already seen criminals use them along and within our borders for illicit purposes. We are working with Congress for the authorities needed to ensure we can better protect the American people against emerging drone threats.”
This bill passed the House Committee on Homeland Security by a unanimous vote with the support of one cosponsor, who is a Republican.
Of Note: A 2015 Presidential Memorandum on drones and privacy required all federal agencies to establish and publish drone privacy procedures by February 2016. Emphasizing the “privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties concerns” raised by UAS, President Obama ordered agencies to ensure that any federal government use of drones in U.S. airspace complied with “the Constitution, federal law, and other applicable regulations and policies.” However, as of June 2018, DHS and other federal agencies had failed to produce the reports required in the 2015 memorandum.
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.
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 Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / scanrail)