Top federal officials warned Wednesday of the threat of terrorists using drones to conduct attacks in the U.S., saying they fear the possibility of dropping a grenade or spreading a toxin to kill Americans.
Islamic extremists overseas have made use of drones for some time, but the threat is now realistic here at home, the officials said, adding that realizing the problem is much easier than coming up with a defense.
“Two years ago this was not a problem. A year ago this was an emerging problem. Now it’s a real problem,” said Nicholas J. Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said the challenge is that it’s easy to acquire and operate drones, and they expect terrorists will soon harness the threat here.
“The expectation is it’s coming here imminently,” he told the Senate Homeland Security Committee, in a hearing reviewing threats to the U.S.
Mr. Rasmussen said federal officials have begun to share lessons learned overseas and to alert local police to the dangers, such as drones “dropping small explosives the size of a grenade” or spreading toxins.
Senators seemed shocked at the level of the threat and dismayed that there wasn’t a more complete answer among federal officials yet.
Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said the government may need new authority to be able to intercept the signals controlling the drones, “so we can try to determine whether this is a friendly or foe type of drone.”
On the border, smugglers already use drones to carry hard drugs such as heroin or methamphetamine from Mexico into the U.S.
Border Patrol agents say they don’t have any defense other than trying to spot and track the drones — and if the operators tape over the drones’ lights and fly them high enough, they are virtually impossible to detect at night.