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Mueller: FBI uses drones for surveillance

June 20, 2013 - Ben Klein
Last Friday the House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, which included funds for "$4.7 million expansion to an unmanned-aircraft hangar at Fort Drum's Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield," according to the Watertown Daily Times.

The project is expected to be completed in August and will build two additional bays at the New York Air National Guard's 174th Attack Wing in Syracuse, the Watertown Daily Times says.

"The hangar funding and overall authorization bill must still be approved in the full Senate and in conference negotiations between the two chambers."

"The newly planned funding also would support a wider taxiway between the hangar and airfield" and "The hangar expansion project is the only military construction requested for Fort Drum in fiscal year 2014 in either the Department of Defense's fiscal year budget or either of the congressional authorization bills."

"The wing's 25 to 30 airmen stationed at the airfield handle takeoff of the 10,500-pound MQ-9 Reaper aircraft before transferring control by satellite to training pilots in Syracuse, and perform maintenance work. The unit has flown drones at the airfield since October 2011."

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that FBI Director Robert Mueller said ""The FBI uses drones for surveillance of stationary subjects, and the privacy implications of such operations are "worthy of debate."

He said the law enforcement agency very seldom uses drones now, but is developing guidelines that will shape how unmanned aerial vehicles are to be used.

There will be a number of issues regarding drones "as they become more omnipresent, not the least of which is the drones in airspace and also the threat on privacy," Mueller said in an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"We already have, to a certain extent, a body of law that relates to aerial surveillance and privacy relating to helicopters and small aircraft ... which could well be adapted to the use of drones," Mueller said. "It's still in its nascent stages ... but it's worthy of debate and perhaps legislation down the road."

A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., expressed concern that "the FBI is deploying drone technology while only being in the 'initial stages' of developing guidelines."

Drones allows the FBI to learn critical information that otherwise would be difficult to obtain without introducing serious risk to law enforcement personnel, the law enforcement agency said in a statement following Mueller's comments at the Senate hearing.

The FBI used drones at night during a six-day hostage standoff in Alabama earlier this year. The standoff ended when members of an FBI rescue team stormed an underground bunker, killing gunman Jimmy Lee Dykes before he could harm a 5-year-old boy held hostage.

The FBI said its unmanned aerial vehicles are used only to conduct surveillance operations on stationary subjects. In each instance, the FBI first must obtain the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration to use the aircraft in a very confined geographic area.

The aerospace industry forecasts a worldwide deployment of almost 30,000 drones by 2018, with the United States accounting for half of them.


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FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 19, 2013, before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on national security matters. As Mueller nears the end of his 12 years as head of the law enforcement agency, lawmakers questioned him about the IRS, surveillance activities, and the Boston Marathon bombing. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)