Yesterday, in front of the United States Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing, both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas expressed their support for the renewal of the Counter-UAS legislative authorities for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security. The two also emphasized expanding Counter-UAS authorities beyond the two departments.
During his testimony, Director Wray told the committee that if Congress fails to extend existing DOJ and DHS legislative authorities, the federal government would be “effectively defenseless” against countering drone threats against mass gatherings, airports, and critical infrastructure.
In 2020, DOJ released a statement acknowledging their involvement in events such as Super Bowl LIV in Miami, the 2019 World Series, and the 2020 Rose Bowl Game, as well as at other major events that draw large crowds like Washington, D.C.’s A Capitol Fourth and New York City’s New Year’s celebration.
Wray further commented on the reauthorization, stating, “there is no public safety agency in this country that can provide counter-UAS security at these public events.”
Both DOJ and DHS received legislative relief from specific provisions of federal law that would have otherwise made using certain types of Counter-UAS systems illegal. Those authorities expired last October but were extended through a series of continuing resolutions until President Biden signed a government spending package late last year with language that extended the authorities until September 30th. To prevent a government shutdown earlier this Fall, Congress signed a continuing appropriations bill that extended the DOJ and DHS authorities until November 18th of this year.
For a complete history of law enforcement Counter-UAS in the United States, please visit – A Short History of Law Enforcement C-UAS in the U.S.
Wray informed the committee that the growing UAS threat underscores the necessity for state and local law enforcement to be able to use systems to counter the drone threat because “there are way too many of these events, and way too much growth in the use of drones, for FBI and DHS alone to be able to protect against it.”
Wray stated that the FBI has a plan to train state and local counter-drone operators, aiming to establish a consistent nationwide standard similar to how they train civilian bomb technicians.
Senator Gary Peters, a Democrat from Michigan and the Chair of the Committee pointed out that an Ohio State-Maryland football game on October 7 had to be postponed due to an unidentified drone flying over the stadium. He emphasized that such occurrences are regrettably on the rise.
Secretary Mayorkas informed the committee that airport owners and operators have emphasized the necessity of federal authority to safeguard commercial aircraft, as they cannot protect the airspace independently. He further emphasized the importance of this federal counter-drone authority in securing not only public facilities but also the U.S. border, particularly against human traffickers and the trafficking of fentanyl. This authority is crucial in intercepting drones used by cartels for smuggling activities across the border.
Director Wray testified to the committee regarding current events and the concern that the conflicts overseas will result in violence in the United States. In addition to addressing Homegrown Violent Extremists (HVE) and Domestic Violent Extremists (DVE) threats, there is also a concern that foreign terrorist organizations like Hamas might exploit the ongoing conflict to conduct attacks on U.S. soil. Multiple investigations into individuals associated with Hamas are currently ongoing to address this concern.