Dear Black Bag Confidential Reader,
Here we are — the first week of January.
Holiday decorations have made their way back to attics and closets, relatives have all returned home and you’re left to gleefully play with your newly gifted gadgets.
But it’s not all fun and games.
According to The Washington Post, 1.2 million people received drones as gifts this holiday season.
Long-range drones, drones with cameras, drones that can carry up to 44 pounds, tracking drones, automatic landing drones… the list of drone capabilities is ever-growing.
What happens when these devices make it into the wrong hands? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but they already have.
Before you send your new toy skyward, check out Jason’s take on the drone debate, below.
Managing editor, Black Bag Confidential
Drones: Friends or Foes?
In October 2016, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas hosted the final presidential debate of the election year at the Thomas & Mack Center, located on the main campus.
All the presidential debates brought in huge crowds, and the fact that this one took place only 1½ miles from the Las Vegas Strip meant even more people than usual.
Along with multiple law enforcement agencies, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was tasked with keeping the large crowd safe and under control.
Due to the rising use of drones, the police department deployed a sophisticated network of sensors that used software able to detect drones. The tracking software could identify drones as well as provide video footage, project the expected flight path and even classify the type of drone. Without sharing too many details, I know the police department also employed drone countermeasures — including signal jammers.
The harsh reality is law enforcement must strive to keep up with technological advances, especially when it comes to drones and their capabilities. According to Jörg Lamprecht, the CEO of one drone tracking company, “Airspace security is now as vital as security on the ground.”
Just like any kind of technology, drones can be used for noble or nefarious purposes. Already, video footage has emerged showing terrorists testing ways to attach bombs to drones. In October, Kurdish fighters in Iraq spotted a drone as it crashed. When they went to investigate the crash site, the drone exploded, killing two soldiers.
The U.S. military has been using drones for years. In fact, the Pentagon plans for “expanding the current number of daily flights — measured in so-called combat air patrols — from 61 to as many as 90 by 2019,” as reported to The Wall Street Journal.
In addition to their combat functions, there are companies like Amazon that are investing money in trying to use drones to effectively deliver packages, bringing a whole new level of speed and convenience to their suite of services.
And then there’s your creepy neighbor who might be using their newly acquired drone to spy on you. Or petty thieves using drones to see if anyone is home before breaking into your house.
The problem is how do we regulate drones to prevent them from being used to commit crimes — large or small? Certainly, the prospect of a large-scale attack is one of the more frightening possibilities when, for only a couple thousand dollars, a terrorist could easily buy a drone that can carry 20, 25, even 40 pounds — which is plenty of weight to transport a bomb.
Some people will point out that laws are being enacted to prevent drones from flying in certain areas or restricting the maximum altitude at which they can fly. But we all know that criminals can and will ignore those laws. And when these laws are broken, will law enforcement be able to respond quickly enough to stop the attack?
While many law enforcement agencies do have drone-detecting systems, it’s vital that we continue to explore more ways to prevent drones being used in criminal attacks.
One way is by requiring drone manufacturers to implement strict weight limits on drones so they can’t be used to carry bombs or other weapons. Another suggestion is adding GPSes to drones and creating no-fly zones using geo-fencing technology to prevent drones from entering certain airspaces.
Manufacturers and law enforcement must work together to create additional ways to prevent drones from being used for terrorist attacks and other crimes. But restricting drone capabilities might hinder military operations of U.S. forces and our allies.
It’s a classic Catch-22. One thing is for certain: Unless more is done, it won’t be a matter of if but when we see a large-scale drone attack.
Who would have thought that another threat to our safety is that little drone buzzing around your neighborhood?