- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Key senators announced new legislation Tuesday authorizing Homeland Security or the Justice Department to shoot down drones that are deemed to be threatening critical infrastructure, staking out an aggressive posture toward a growing danger.

The bill, sponsored by top Republicans and Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee, comes as reports of drone mayhem increase. The FBI recently revealed a hostage rescue team operation was disrupted after someone flew a swarm of drones at the team to run interference.

Officials have also warned that the smuggling cartels that control the drug and illegal immigrant traffic across the southwest border could use drones to drop homemade bombs from the air.

And counterterrorism officials have long warned of Islamic State or other radicalized operatives using drones to conduct attacks in the U.S.

The new legislation would allow the government to confiscate, interrupt communications with, or if need be to destroy drones that are seen to be dangers.

“I think we are so far behind the curve on this thing,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

He’s sponsoring the new bill along with top committee Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill and North Dakota Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven, a Democrat and a Republican.

The legislation has a five-year sunset clause, meaning Congress would get a chance to renew the powers to make sure they’re working as intended.

Facing the drone threat has bedeviled the U.S. government for years.

Airports and other critical installations say they are regularly buzzed by drones, but have struggled with a response.

Drones have also been used to spy on the U.S. Border Patrol, and in some cases have even been used to smuggle illegal drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, across the U.S.-Mexico line.

Agents say they have no ability to consistently detect drones, much less a policy on how to interdict them in the air.

“We already see them being used in nefarious ways on the border,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told senators at a committee hearing Tuesday.

Border Patrol agents have said coming up with rules of engagement for dealing with drones is likely to be fraught with tough questions. Firing on a drone, particularly in a populated area, could be difficult.

Companies are developing technology that would intercept the drone’s communications with its controller and could even give government operators the ability to take control of the drone.

Some parts of the government, including the Defense Department, are further along in their anti-drone efforts, having dealt with an expansive threat from Islamic State terrorists overseas.

Ms. Nielsen said if Homeland Security and the Justice Department get new authority they’ll turn to the Pentagon and others to explore what they’ve already done.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Missouri Republican, introduced a similar anti-drone bill in the House in March.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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