Drones can be a ‘force multiplier’ for drug smugglers, DHS secretary warns

(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas is warning Americans about the dangers of drones along the U.S.-Mexican border and urging Congress to expand the department’s drone defense capabilities in the interest of national security.

The secretary recalled specific incidents when drones have posed a threat in the United States, citing an incident earlier this month in Pittsburgh in which a drone grounded all flights for 30 minutes — one of 2,300 incidents involving drones in the past two years he said that disrupted prearranged flight schedules, he said in remarks to congressional staffers at DHS headquarters.

Mayorkas told reporters after his remarks that when drones get into the wrong hands, especially on the border, it can be dangerous.

“While drones present such a remarkable potential in terms of the innovation and their productive use, in the wrong hands, they also present a real threat, and we see that threat materialize — most notably on the border, where criminal organizations are seeking to use drones to carry drugs across the border, where they’re using it as a force multiplier in their ability to understand where our law enforcement resources are deployed and seek to circumvent them,” the secretary explained.

Some drones exhibited at the event were used by a drug cartel in at least one human smuggling operation, Mayorkas said.

“We’ve seen the drones used as [part of] traffickers’ and smugglers’ efforts to surveil the border and understand where our law enforcement footprint is and seek to exploit that footprint,” Mayorkas said. “So it gives them bigger eyes, if you will.”

The secretary also said officials have seen drones used to carry drugs across the border.

China is a major manufacturer of drones, the secretary said, though he noted there are also other countries letting dangerous drones take to the skies.

“It is a source of concern, but [China] is not a sole source of drone manufacturing production,” he said. “We encourage the purchase of drones of us that are free from such a potential threat.”

China’s espionage capabilities have been of concern for many years, though they received renewed widespread attention in February when a massive surveillance balloon traversed the United States for several days before being shot down over the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently there is a bipartisan bill to expand the department’s drone capabilities, which the secretary urged Congress to support.

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