Hundreds of drones produced in China have been detected in restricted airspace over Washington DC over the past months, leading senators to fear for US security. Although the drones, designed for recreational use by Chinese company DJI, are made with “geofencing” measures to keep them out of sensitive locations, they are able to be manipulated through workarounds so they can travel over no-fly zones.
Classified briefings have been delivered to the Senate Homeland Security, Commerce and Intelligence committees by federal officials and drone industry experts, according to sources privy to the developments.
No comment has so far been made on the briefings by any of the committees.
A number of government officials, lawmakers, congressional staffers and contractors agreed to speak anonymously on the issue to POLITICO.
They say they do not believe the swarms were directly ordered by Beijing, yet it is still a worrying development in drone technology that could be used for espionage.
Congress is currently debating extending current federal authorities and implementing new ones to track the aerial vehicles as possible security threats.
Rachel Stohl, vice president of research programs at the Stimson Center think tank, said: “This is part of a trend of commercial drones for potentially nefarious reasons.
“We’re seeing in conflict zones, in other theatres, the reliance and use of commercial drones.
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“They’re manufactured in China or manufactured by a Chinese company, but they’ll put a sticker on it of some non-Chinese company that repackages it so you don’t even know that you’re buying it.
“But anything that’s technological has the capability of having embedded, in the software or in the actual hardware, vulnerabilities that can be exploited at any given moment.”
DJI have said they have no control over what customers do with their products after they have been purchased.