and Explosives (ATF), Barack Obama, Bureau of Alcohol, Chuck Grassley, Drones, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Eric Holder, FAA, FBI, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Firearms, FOIA, Freedom of Information Act, Robert Mueller, Tobacco, UAS, Unmanned aerial vehicle
Speaking at a US Senate judiciary committee hearing, FBI Director Robert Mueller conceded that while the FBI hasn’t yet developed official policies on their use, they are already using drones over US soil for surveillance purposes.
Mueller tried to shrug off the revelation as no big deal, insisting that he was “unsure” about how often they’d been used, and how long the FBI keeps surveillance photos, but that they have used them “very seldom.”
“It’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident where you need the capability,” said Mueller.
President Obama had insisted last month that the US would only use drones in areas where there is a “continuing, imminent threat.” It isn’t clear what standards, if any, apply to surveillance operations inside the US however.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R – IA), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Holder to provide more information about the number and types of drones used by the FBI, the rules that govern their use, and whether they’re capable of being armed.
The letter to Holder comes after FBI Director Robert Mueller testified earlier on Wednesday — in response to questions from Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — that the FBI uses drones to conduct surveillance operation within the U.S.
Grassley was interested in getting those details, and has pressed Attorney General Eric Holder on the matter. Holder had submitted written details of Justice Department drone use to the Senate just last week, but omitted anything about an active FBI program. Holder’s answers had only confirmed DEA and ATF use, and said any theoretical FBI use would have to follow guidelines he would write.
Grassley questioned whether the nation’s top cop had been completely honest with the committee in his answers, because he made little mention of the FBI’s drone use after being asked whether any Justice Department entity uses, or plans to use, drones in the U.S.
“This exchange with Director Mueller raises some concerns about the completeness of the previous response you provided to my written question,” wrote Grassley. “Specifically, if the FBI is actively using drones on U.S. soil, why was that fact not included in a detailed format as was done with the DEA and ATF information?”
Holder told the committee that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had acquired two “robotic miniature helicopters with video capabilities” and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has six Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS’s), which it uses for crime scene and “surveillance purposes.”
But Holder did not specifically mention whether or not the FBI used drones within the U.S., beyond stating that “the FBI’s use of UAS’s must comport with the attorney general’s guidelines for domestic FBI activities and the FBI’s own domestic investigations and operations guide.”
Grassley called this response “cryptic” and pressed Holder in his letter for more information about how often the FBI uses drones and in what types of operations. He also wants to know what limitations are placed on their use and whether warrants are required.
Certification of Authorization (COA) Sponsors
August 29, 2013 – In response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the FAA is releasing specific Certificate of Authorization (COA) information that is not subject to FOIA exemptions. The file below contains information for 17 COAs.
- August 29 Release of 17 UAS COA Files (ZIP, 133.07 MB)
June 20, 2013 – In response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the FAA is releasing specific Certificate of Authorization (COA) information that is not subject to FOIA exemptions. The file below contains information for 9 COAs.
- June 20 Release of 9 UAS COA Files (ZIP, 54.47 MB)
April 18, 2013 – In response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the FAA is releasing specific Certificate of Authorization (COA) information that is not subject to FOIA exemptions. The file below contains information for 10 COAs. None of the COAs are currently active.
- April 19 Release of 10 UAS COA Files (ZIP, 38.86 MB)
February 12, 2013 – In response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, the FAA is releasing specific Certificate of Authorization (COA) information that is not subject to FOIA exemptions. The file below contains information for 24 COAs. None of the COAs are currently active.
- February 12 Release of 24 UAS COA Files (ZIP, 181.40 MB)
Regulations & Policies
Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations
- Part 1, Definitions, Civil Aircraft, section 1.1
- Part 21, Certification Procedures for Products and Parts
- Part 21, Subpart H, Airworthiness Certificates, Experimental Certificates, sections 21.191 and 21.193
- AC 21-12, Application for U.S. Airworthiness Certificate, FAA Form 8130-6
- AC 45-2, Identification and Registration Marking
- AC 91-57, Model Aircraft Operating Standards
- FAA Form 8130-6 (PDF), Application for U.S. Airworthiness Certificate
- Order 1110.150, Small Unmanned Aircraft System Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC)
- Order 8130.2, Airworthiness Certification of Aircraft and Related Products
- Order 8130.20, Registration Requirements for the Airworthiness Certification of U.S. Civil Aircraft
- Order 8130.34 (PDF), Airworthiness Certification of Unmanned Aircraft Systems
- Federal Register Notice – Clarification of FAA Policy (PDF), UAS Operations in the U.S. National Airspace System
- Notice 8900.207, Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Operational Approval
- UAS Certification Status, November 15, 2006 (PDF), includes FAA focal points for UAS certification project coordination
- UAS Certification Status, Optionally Piloted Aircraft and Accidents Involving UAS, August 18, 2008 (PDF), Revision to AVS Policy
- FBI Already Using Drones for Surveillance Inside US
- Senator asks Holder whether he held back info on FBI drones
- Hoolywood is Lobbying For Drones In Movie Industry (lisaleaks.com)
- States Vie for Test Sites As FAA Prepares U.S. Airspace For Thousands of Drones (lisaleaks.com)
- FAA selects K-State Salina to test certification standards for unmanned aircraft systems (suasnews.com)
- Drone Pilot Fine Tests Industry Seen Reaching $89 Billion – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Back Country Drones (lisaleaks.com)
- States Vie for Test Sites As FAA Prepares U.S. Airspace For Thousands of Drones (backcountryvoices.wordpress.com)
- Back Country Citizens Concerned About Drones (lisaleaks.com)
- New rules urged over FBI drone use (bbc.co.uk)
- NSA leaks prompt 1,000% FOIA request spike (salon.com)
- ACLU Sues to Get Policies and Records on Use of NSA Surveillance in Criminal Cases (indybay.org)