White House seeks expanded powers to detect, destroy threatening drones

·2-min read

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The White House said Monday it is seeking expanded powers from Congress to detect and disable threatening drones, including asking for new authority to protect airports and for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other government departments.

Congress in 2018 expanded the authority of the Justice Department and Homeland Security (DHS) Departments to disable or destroy threatening drones, which are formally known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), but the Biden administration says it needs more authority as the number of registered drones jumps.

The legislative proposal sent to Congress this month would extend drone detection and destruction powers to agencies like the CIA and State Department to protect U.S. facilities.

The Biden administration said the CIA needs authority "to effectively respond to hostile foreign intelligence services collecting sensitive information about its personnel, facilities, and activities in the United States."

The proposal would also expand detection abilities by owners of airports and other critical infrastructure like oil refineries as well as state and local law enforcement - but that would not extend authority for those entities to destroy drones.

The White House released its "Domestic Counter-Unmanned Aircraft Systems National Action Plan" and said it would create a drone incident tracking database "to have a better understanding of the overall domestic threat."

The White House said the proliferation of drones "has also introduced new risks to public safety, privacy, and homeland security. Malicious actors have increasingly used UAS domestically to commit crimes, conduct illegal surveillance and industrial espionage."

The proposal would extend the power to detect and destroy or disable threatening drones to the Transportation Security Administration for airports and the U.S. Marshals Service for prisoner transports. The proposal would authorize drone protection for military airports and allow NASA to conduct drone detection activities to protect facilities.

The Biden administration said in October 2019 two drones were observed by Kennedy Space Center security officers during the landing of the X-37B space plane, a highly classified program.

There are over 800,000 registered drones in the United States. The White House cited a 2018 FBI assessment that drones would likely be used "to facilitate an attack in the United States against a vulnerable target, such as a mass gathering."

The proposal says since 2018 DHS agencies including the U.S. Secret Service and the Federal Protective Service, have used detection and counter-drone technologies "over 200 times, often in sensitive protective missions."

The report said the Federal Aviation Administration now receives more than 100 drone sighting reports a month.

(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Potter)

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