U.S. law enforcement agencies purchase surveillance drones from China despite warnings from military

The U.S. military repeatedly warned against using drones from the Chinese company DJI during the Trump administration and has continued to warn against their use under the Biden administration.

U.S. law enforcement agencies purchase surveillance drones from China despite warnings from military
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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Federal law enforcement agencies in the United States are reportedly purchasing surveillance drones from China, despite multiple warnings from the U.S. military that devices produced by Chinese companies pose a threat to national security.

Axios reports that the Secret Service purchased eight drones from a Chinese company, DJI, on July 26, according to procurement records obtained by the industry publication IPVM. The purchase was made three days after the Department of Defense released a statement warning that DJI products “pose potential threats to national security.” As part of its report, Axios cited records that reportedly show that the Federal Bureau of Investigation also bought 19 drones by the same Chinese company. 

The U.S. military repeatedly warned against using DJI drones during the Trump administration and has continued to warn against their use under the Biden administration, the Daily Wire reported.

“The Department of Defense (DOD) position is that systems produced by Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) pose potential threats to national security,” the Pentagon said a few months ago. “Existing DOD policy and practices associated with the use of these systems by U.S. government entities and forces working with U.S. military services remain unchanged contrary to any written reports not approved for release by the DOD.”

“In 2018, DOD issued a ban on the purchase and use of all commercial off-the-shelf drones, regardless of manufacturer, due to cybersecurity concerns,” the statement added. “The following year, Congress passed legislation specifically banning the purchase and use of drones and components manufactured in China. DOD complies with Section 848 of the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and additional guidance provided by Executive Order 13981.”

In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security said it had “moderate confidence that Chinese-based company DJI Science and Technology is providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government,” adding that it has “high confidence [DJI] is selectively targeting government and privately owned entities within these sectors to expand its ability to collect and exploit sensitive U.S. data.”

It further detailed:

  • “…high confidence a foreign government with access to this information could easily coordinate physical or cyber attacks against critical sites.”
  • “… high confidence that outside of DJI’s goal to attain law enforcement customers, DJI’s criteria for selecting accounts to target appears to focus on the account holder’s ability to disrupt critical infrastructure. As a result, DJI has amassed customers such as American Water, Union Pacific, and American Electric Power, some of the biggest utility and transportation companies in the United States.”
  • “… high confidence that the critical infrastructure and law enforcement entities using DJI systems are collecting sensitive intelligence that the Chinese government could use to conduct physical or cyber attacks against the United States and its population. Alternatively, China could provide DJI information to terrorist organizations, hostile non-state entities, or state-sponsored groups to coordinate attacks against U.S. critical infrastructure. The UAS capture close-up imagery and GPS information on water systems, rail systems, hazardous material storage systems, first responders’ activity, and construction of highways, bridges, and rails.”

News of the federal agencies’ use of DJI technology comes amid repeated targeted attacks on critical U.S. infrastructure this year by Russian hackers, to which Biden responded by giving Russian President Vladimir Putin a list of critical infrastructure not to attack, Reuters reported in June.

"We agreed to task experts in both our countries to work on specific understandings about what is off-limits," Biden said following his meeting with Putin in Geneva. "We'll find out whether we have a cybersecurity arrangement that begins to bring some order."

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