FBI “will need new powers to counter growing UAS threat”

“We welcome the introduction of the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018,” said Scott Brunner, Deputy Assistant Director, Critical Incident Response Group at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in statement before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Washington, D.C, on 6 June. “This legislation would provide the authorities requested in the administration’s proposal, which we believe are necessary to mitigate the national security and criminal threats posed by UAS.”

“The UAS threat could take a number of forms, including illicit surveillance, chemical/biological/radiological attacks, traditional kinetic attacks on large open air venues (concerts, ceremonies, and sporting events), or attacks against government facilities, installations and personnel,” said Scott Brunner. “Sadly, these threats are not merely hypothetical. For more than two years, the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) has used cheap, commercially available drones to conduct attacks and reconnaissance in Syria and Iraq. As Director Wray testified last year, the FBI is concerned that these deadly tactics—perfected overseas—will be performed in the homeland. That threat could manifest itself imminently.

“In addition to national security threats, UAS pose very serious criminal threats. Drug traffickers have used UAS to smuggle narcotics over the U.S. southern border, and criminals have used UAS to deliver contraband inside federal and state prisons. Similar to national security threat actors, criminal actors have utilized UAS for both surveillance and counter surveillance in order to evade or impede law enforcement. We have also observed the use of UAS to harass and disrupt law enforcement operations.

“UAS technology renders traditional, two-dimensional security measures (such as perimeter fences) ineffective, enabling criminals, spies and terrorists to gain unprecedented, inexpensive, and often unobtrusive degrees of access to previously secure facilities. Finally, the mere presence of UAS in the vicinity of an emergency could impede emergency response operations, especially aviation-based responses, in order to avoid any potential collisions between manned aircraft and UAS.

“At present, the FBI and our federal partners have very limited authority to counter this new threat. Potential conflicts in federal criminal law limit the use of technologies that would enable the FBI to detect or, if necessary, to mitigate UAS that threaten critical facilities and assets. Absent legislative action, the FBI is unable to effectively protect the U.S. from this growing threat. As you know, the administration recently proposed counter-UAS legislation designed to fill this critical gap. That legislation would authorize the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to conduct counter-UAS activities notwithstanding potentially problematic provisions in the federal code. The legislation would extend those authorities within a framework that provides appropriate oversight, protects privacy and civil liberties, and maintains aviation safety.”

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