FBI drones are used on United States soil. That was the new revelation from FBI directior Robert Mueller, who was testifying Wednesday in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Christian Science Monitor drily noted that some senators seemed astonished to learn that the FBI possessed surveillance drones.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IO) had asked if the FBI was thinking of buying drones to help improve surveillance on American soil in the wake of the Boston bombings. Mueller replied that the FBI already had surveillance drones.
While the expanded use of drones in war, especially in Afghanistan, has grabbed headlines, Mueller emphasized that the FBI drones are carefully and rarely used:
“We have very few and [they are] of limited use, and we’re exploring not only the use but also the necessary guidelines for that use.”
Mueller will retire from the FBI after 12 year of service later this year.
The FBI drones don’t carry weapons. At the current time, they are reportedly only used to assist in police pursuits or to patrol the long United States border with Mexico.
However, the Euronews report suggested that all American airspace will be open to unmanned drones by 2015, allowing for expanded use of the surveillance devices.
Bloomberg Businessweek interviewed an unnamed law enforcement official who expanded on Mueller’s testimony. That individual emphasized the FBI drones are only used in specific operations and that the FBI must get FAA approval first.
One such drone was used for surveillance in the Alabama hostage stand-off earlier this year, when 65-year-old Jimmy Lee Dykes barricaded himself in an underground bunker with his 5-year-old hostage. The child was eventually rescued by the FBI.
Small and agile drones like Robo Raven, a tiny birdlike drone, are currently under development by researchers and the armed forces.
According to Mueller, the bureau is now drawing up guidelines to address privacy concerns in the use of the FBI drones.
[MQ-9 Reaper in Afghanistan photo by U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson via Wikimedia Commons]