News and Analysis

Feds Buying Chinese Drones Despite Military Warning That They Pose Threat To National Security
A quadcopter drone hovering during a flight in front of the sun. The flying drone is seen as a dark silhouette against the spectacular colorful sunset sky and the sun while the UAV is able to capture aerial videography and photography via a remote control. The specific drone is a DJI Mavic Air. The Unmanned aerial vehicle is popular for recreational usage by tourists as the technology is accessible to everybody in low cost but also has many professional applications Sani Beach area, Halkidiki, Greece on July 15, 2021
Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

U.S. federal law enforcement agencies are reportedly purchasing Chinese surveillance drones despite multiple warnings from the U.S. military that they pose a threat to U.S. national security.

“The Secret Service bought eight DJI drones on July 26, according to procurement records obtained by the industry publication IPVM,” Axios reported. “That was three days after the Defense Department released a statement saying DJI products ‘pose potential threats to national security.’”

Axios went on to cite records that reportedly show the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) bought 19 drones made by the same China-based company.

The U.S. military repeatedly warned against using the drones during the Trump administration and continued to warn against using them during the Biden era.

“The Department of Defense (DOD) position is that systems produced by Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) pose potential threats to national security,” the Pentagon said over the summer. “Existing DOD policy and practices associated with the use of these systems by U.S. government entities and forces working with U.S. military services remain unchanged contrary to any written reports not approved for release by the DOD.”

“In 2018, DOD issued a ban on the purchase and use of all commercial off-the-shelf drones, regardless of manufacturer, due to cybersecurity concerns,” the statement later added. “The following year, Congress passed legislation specifically banning the purchase and use of drones and components manufactured in China. DOD complies with Section 848 of the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and additional guidance provided by Executive Order 13981.”

The Department of Homeland Security warned in 2017 that it had “moderate confidence that Chinese-based company DJI Science and Technology is providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government.”

DHS further warned it has:

  • “… high confidence [DJI] is selectively targeting government and privately owned entities within these sectors to expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive U.S. data.”
  • “…high confidence a foreign government with access to this information could easily coordinate physical or cyber attacks against critical sites.”
  • “… high confidence that outside of DJI’s goal to attain law enforcement customers, DJI’s criteria for selecting accounts to target appears to focus on the account holder’s ability to disrupt critical infrastructure. As a result, DJI has amassed customers such as American Water, Union Pacific, and American Electric Power, some of the biggest utility and transportation companies in the United States.”
  • “… high confidence the critical infrastructure and law enforcement entities using DJI systems are collecting sensitive intelligence that the Chinese government could use to conduct physical or cyber attacks against the United States and its population. Alternatively, China could provide DJI information to terrorist organizations, hostile non-state entities, or state-sponsored groups to coordinate attacks against U.S. critical infrastructure. The UAS capture close-up imagery and GPS information on water systems, rail systems, hazardous material storage systems, first responders’ activity, and construction of highways, bridges, and rails.”

The news comes after U.S. critical infrastructure has been repeatedly targeted in cyberattacks this year by Russian hackers, to which Democrat President Joe Biden responded by handing Russian President Vladimir Putin a list of critical infrastructure not to attack.

Rebeccah Heinrichs, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, responded to Biden’s move by noting: “This is essentially inviting Putin to attack literally everything else.”

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