Biden admin rolls out first ‘whole of government’ plan to counter U.S. drone threats


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The Biden administration is rolling out its first whole-of-government plan to counter threats posed by drones in the United States, as malicious actors increasingly use unmanned aircraft systems to commit crimes and conduct unlawful surveillance, l espionage and more, a senior administration official said Monday.

The official said that over the past decade drones, known as unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), have become a “common feature of American life”, noting that they are used for leisure, research and commerce.

The official warned, however, that the proliferation of technology has introduced “new risks” to public safety, privacy and homeland security.

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On Monday, the administration rolled out the “National Action Plan Against Domestic Unmanned Aircraft Systems,” to proactively address threats and protect the United States from “harmful UAS activity.” .

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks in Washington on January 20, 2022.
(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The official said on Monday that the plan was developed in coordination with multiple agencies, the intelligence community and regulatory professionals in an effort to address “critical gaps in policy and law” that hamper the government’s ability to “to defend the vital interests of national security”.

The official said Monday that the Biden administration was “not aware of any specific threats from specific state or non-state actors.” Instead, the deployment is in response to “worrying” activity overseas.

“We know the same capabilities exist here,” the official said, “that’s so we can be proactive and ahead of a threat.”

The plan seeks to protect airspace, communications spectrums, individual privacy, civil liberties and civil loopholes in existing laws and policies that they say “currently prevent government and law enforcement to protect the American people and our vital security interests,” the official said.

President Joe Biden speaks about prescription drug costs February 10, 2022 in Culpeper, Virginia.

President Joe Biden speaks about prescription drug costs February 10, 2022 in Culpeper, Virginia.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

“UAS serve many beneficial commercial and recreational purposes. As has been the case with many technological advances, they can also be exploited for pernicious purposes,” the official said.

“To protect our homeland and prevent their growing use from threatening the safety and security of our people, communities and institutions, this National Action Plan Against UAS will establish new ground rules for the expansion of uses UAS and improve our defenses against the use of UAS for improper or harmful purposes.”

According to a senior administration official, only certain agencies in the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), Defense and Energy have the authority under existing federal laws to conduct detection and counter-UAS activities. Other government departments may have the authority to conduct the activities, but not for all locations deemed high risk.

The proposal announced Monday seeks to expand authorized agencies, as well as include all areas of critical infrastructure as authorized locations for UAS detection and counter UAS mitigation. The proposal also seeks to authorize the Department of State to conduct nationwide drone detection and counter-drone mitigation activities.

The administration is also proposing to authorize the CIA to conduct UAS detection and mitigation activities to protect national locations, and to authorize NASA to conduct detection activities to protect its locations.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a press conference at the Pentagon on January 28, 2022.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a press conference at the Pentagon on January 28, 2022.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

As part of this plan, the Biden administration is seeking the cooperation of Congress to enact a new legislative proposal to expand the set of tools and actors that can protect against UAS. The proposal also seeks to extend UAS detection authorities to state, local, territorial and tribal law enforcement agencies and critical infrastructure owners and operators.

The proposal would also create a federally-sponsored pilot program for law enforcement participants to conduct UAS mitigation activities, and allow critical infrastructure owners and operators to purchase equipment authorized for use by appropriate law enforcement agencies to protect their facilities.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks with reporters at the White House on March 12, 2021.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks with reporters at the White House on March 12, 2021.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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“The C-UAS National Action Plan and the Biden-Harris Administration’s legislative proposal are critical to ensuring DHS and our partners have the authorities and tools necessary to protect the public, the President and other senior U.S. officials, federal facilities, and critical infrastructure from threats posed by the malicious and unlawful use of unmanned aircraft systems,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Monday.

“These threats are increasing at home and abroad, and the plan and legislative proposal calls for the reauthorization and expansion of DHS C-UAS authority to help keep our communities safe.”


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