09Oct 2017

Drones are a looming domestic terrorism threat

We are still reeling from the terrorist attack that occurred in Las Vegas this past weekend. Nearly 60 Americans were killed and more than 500 were injured when one gunman shot indiscriminately into a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers Sunday night. Authorities are still working to make sense out of something that makes very little sense, but the consensus is that we need to do better to protect against these type of attacks.  A tragedy of this magnitude begs several questions. How can we better protect civilians from terrorist attacks? What new ways will people find to harm one another? How do we stay ahead of the curve?

Amid the raging debate over gun control, it is also important to talk about other methods that terrorists might use to attack civilians. Experts believe that the next big attack will likely come in the form of commercial drones since there is little security infrastructure to anticipate and react to such a threat. The FBI Director issued a stark warning about the growing danger of drone terror. Last month, FBI Director Chris A. Wray testified before a Senate committee that drones are an increasing threat in the United States. “Two years ago this was not a problem,” he told the committee. “A year ago it was an emerging problem. Now it’s a real problem. So we’re quickly trying to up our game.”



Drones present a uniquely challenging threat when it comes to terrorism. The military has been fighting the Islamic State’s increasingly lethal fleet of drones since 2015 when the militant group began to use surveillance drones on the battlefield. ISIS recruits are capable of adapting consumer grade drones, which can be capable of carrying bombs or chemicals that if dropped over a crowd of people, could have a devastating effect. So far, roughly a dozen Iraqi soldiers have been killed by bomb-carrying drones, and Iranian drones have been caught buzzing U.S. Navy ships at sea.

At home, the threat of terrorists using drones to drop bombs or even biological weapons over American soil is increasingly real. Today’s drones can carry a payload of about the weight of a grenade or a handgun, but the technology will develop quickly and before long they will be able to carry 10 or 12 pounds, more than enough to wreck havoc at a crowded concert or sporting event. Security officials are also concerned about the threat that drones will present to dams, nuclear power plants and other critical infrastructure.


Armed Drone

The Pentagon is alarmed enough by this technology they have launched a $700 million program, recruiting civilian anti-drone startups to compete against aviation big dogs like Boeing and Raytheon to devise technology and tactics to thwart the small aircraft. The Secret Service already announced last year that they would begin testing a drone shield in the area surrounding the White House. The FAA and the Department of Homeland Security are both actively investing in technology that would allow them to detect drones in the surrounding airspace, and block radio communications to and from the aircraft.

The National Counterterrorism Center is actively coordinating with state and local law enforcement officials, as well as aviation officials, to study the issue and prepare effective countermeasures. Huge public gatherings, like the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas which became the horrific scene of a terrorist attack, are especially vulnerable.



It is therefore imperative that event organizers, law enforcement officials, and security personnel look into drone detection and mitigation solutions that can help increase security at large public events. We should be doing everything we can to ensure that our citizens are not vulnerable to another tragedy like the one that happened in Las Vegas on Sunday.