DHS Worried about Malicious Drones As Technology Rapidly Evolves

By Steve Neavling

As a drone with flashing red and green lights hovered over the field where the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals were playing last week, officials temporarily stopped play several times. 

It’s illegal to fly drones over sporting events without permission. 

The prospect of malicious drones is a big concern for the Department of Homeland Security.

“We are concerned by rapidly-evolving technology associated with drones, and that they can be used for a variety of malicious purposes,” Samantha Vinograd, who serves as DHS’ assistant secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention, told ABC News.  

Saying the national airspace is “saturated” with drones, she said “a lot of malicious actors also recognize the benefits that drones can provide.”

“We have seen an explosion in drone activity in the national airspace just from a volume perspective, and that is because drones are really cheap to make and technology is really available and evolving rapidly,” she said.

That’s why, she said, it’s important for DHS to ensure “every community has the ability to detect and mitigate drone activity responsibly in line with the same safeguards that we’re already employing at the federal level.”

DHS is responsible for countering malicious drones, and during large-scale events, the department is on scene to help with drone mitigation. 

But, she said, DHS “can’t be everywhere. It’s just not possible.”

DHS isn’t just concerned about large-scale events. Drones have been seen flying over the southern border and near airports. Since 2018, the TSA has encountered 600 drones. 

“TSA does not have the authority to proactively detect and mitigate drones,” she said. “There are countless drone incidents in and around major airports every year. We’ve had actual commercial flights disrupted because of drone activity. We had ground stops.”

Vinograd said it’s important that DHS has its drone program reauthorized in February. 

“Think about if DHS lost the ability for the most part to protect the president and vice president,” she said. “What if DHS lost the ability to mitigate drone activity at the southwest border when there are drones carrying fentanyl and our officers just had to watch them? What if DHS lost the ability to counter drone activity in and around the New York City Marathon? That’s a terrifying concept.”

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