Drones “new threat” to US security

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US Attorney General William Barr issued guidance to Justice Department agencies on the use of protective measures against drones, including destruction of any posing a threat to national security.

Congress in 2018 gave the Justice and Homeland Security departments powers to disable or destroy threatening drones, which can compete with satellites as spies in the sky, after officials raised concerns about their use as weapons.

The US ranks among world leaders in drone warfare after employing the technology in countries including Afghanistan.

Barr, in a statement, said the guidelines “will ensure we are positioned for the future to address this new threat and we approach our counter-drone efforts responsibly, with full respect for the Constitution, privacy and the safety of national airspace.”

The guidance says the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Bureau of Prisons and other Justice Department agencies can intercept communications from a threatening drone or destroy it without prior consent. It details how agencies “may seek approval for the use of counter-drone technologies and request designation of facilities or assets for protection.”

Justice Department agencies, under certain circumstances, may maintain records of communications intercepted from drones for up 180 days, the guidance says.

In a reference to the downing, destruction or disabling of threatening drones, the guidance says agencies must work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and conduct a risk-based assessment to examine the impact of operations on national airspace. That “includes potential effects on manned and unmanned aircraft, aviation safety, airport operations and infrastructure, and air navigation services.”

Agencies, the guidance adds, “should consider and be sensitive at all times to the potential impact protective measures may have on legitimate activity by unmanned aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems, including systems operated by the press.”

More than 1,5 million drones are registered with the FAA and are flown by over 160 000 certified remote pilots.