Biden administration officials warned Congress on Thursday that dangerous uses of drones are on the rise, and they want lawmakers to provide additional authority for the federal government to combat the drones.
Deputy assistant attorney general Brad Wiegman told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that lawmakers need to expand powers granted to the government in 2018 but lapsing later this year.
“We’re seeing an increase in the use of drones for a wide spectrum of criminal and other dangerous activities,” Mr. Wiegman told the panel Thursday. “They can be weaponized to conduct attacks using firearms, explosives or other materials. They can conduct cyberattacks against wireless devices or networks. And they can conduct espionage or traffic in narcotics and contraband.”
The Biden administration has made a “Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan,” under which it wants to reauthorize and expand counter-drone authorities provided to the Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State departments, plus some authorities for the CIA and NASA.
The plan aims to expand where government officials can fight the drones, which officials may do so, and how to do it lawfully.
Homeland Security acting assistant secretary Samantha Vinograd said her agency has watched the threat from drones grow in recent months.
“The threat landscape from drones is heightened and, candidly, escalating extremely fast,” Ms. Vinograd said. “Drones have been used to conduct dangerous kinetic attacks, have interfered with aircrafts and airports, have been used to survey, disrupt, and damage critical infrastructure and services, and more.”
Ms. Vinograd said U.S. Customs and Border Protection detected more than 8,000 illegal cross-border drone flights at the southern border since August 2021.
Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, pressed Ms. Vinograd on how many of those flights were stopped and she said she would check with the Border Patrol officials.
“We’ve been asking them for this since February, persistently, and we are not getting the information,” Mr. Portman said. “I think it’s important we have an authorization but we have to have information.”
Democrats shared fears of how drones could be weaponized in an attack on Americans too.
“If we do not act, it could only be a matter of time before someone who is recklessly operating this technology causes an accident that can have catastrophic effects,” said Sen. Gary Peters, Michigan Democrat, at the hearing.
“As we work to avoid unintentional disasters, we must also account for the escalating threat of weaponized drones from terrorists and criminal organizations who can launch domestic drone attacks on mass gatherings, high profile landmarks and buildings, or federal property,” he said.
In written testimony to the committee, Mr. Wiegman said the FBI has conducted 70 drone detection and counter-drone operations at large events such as the Super Bowl and the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Times Square in New York.
The FBI attempted to stop 50 of the 974 drones it detected in those operations.
He said these operations represented “only 0.05% of the over 121,000 events” for which state, local, and federal officials sought assistance or an assessment regarding counter-drone support from the government.