FBI director Christopher Wray told a US Senate panel the drone threat “is steadily escalating” even as Congress gives agencies new tools to address threats.
Wray told the Senate Homeland Security committee the FBI assesses “given retail availability, lack of verified identification requirement to procure, general ease of use and prior use overseas, drones will be used to facilitate an attack in the United States against a vulnerable target, such as a mass gathering.”
Wray made his comments days after President Donald Trump signed into law legislation giving the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI new powers to disable or destroy drones posing a threat to government facilities.
The new law requires DHS to conduct several assessments to evaluate emerging threats drones may pose to state or private critical infrastructure entities and domestic airports. Wray said the risk “only increased in light of the publicity associated with the apparent attempted assassination of Venezuelan President Maduro using explosives-laden” drones.
Wray noted the FBI disrupted a plan in the United States to use drones to attack the Pentagon and the Capitol building. In 2012, Rezwan Ferdaus was sentenced to 17 years in prison for attempting to conduct a terrorist attack.
Ferdaus, with a degree in physics, obtained multiple jet-powered, remote-controlled model aircraft capable of flying 100 mph and planned to fill the aircraft with explosives and crash them into the Pentagon and the Capitol using a GPS system in each aircraft.
Senator Ron Johnson, who chairs the committee, said earlier this year the number of drone flights over sensitive areas or suspicious activities jumped from eight incidents in 2013 to an estimated 1,752 incidents in 2016, citing federal statistics.
The American Civil Liberties Union criticised the drone provision, saying it “amounts to an unchecked grant of authority to government to forcefully remove drones from the sky in nebulous security circumstances.”
The FBI said drone threats could include surveillance, chemical, biological or radiological attacks or attacks “on large open-air venues” and attacks against government facilities.
Federal officials banned drones over US military bases, national landmarks, nuclear sites and other sensitive areas since 2017. The Defence Department previously had authority to address drone threats to military facilities.
More than a million drones are registered in the US, the Federal Aviation Administration said in January.