- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Drones delivering contraband to federal inmates pose a major security risk, but delays by the office of Attorney General William P. Barr hindered the Bureau of Prisons‘ ability to combat the threat, a Justice Department watchdog said Tuesday.

A report released by the Justice Department Inspector General revealed there were 57 drone incidents at federal prisons last year, although it estimates that the actual number is much higher because the Bureau of Prisons is not properly tracking such incidents.

The 57 incidents are more than double the 23 reported in 2018, the inspector general said.

In one incident, a drone recovered from a BOP facility had a package with 20 cellphones, 23 vials of injectable drugs, dozens of syringes and multiple packages of tobacco, among other contraband items.

The inspector general said drone use at federal prisons is a “significant and growing threat” and warns that as technology evolves, future devices might be powerful enough to carry inmates over the wall.



Despite the concerns, the inspector general found the Justice Department was slow to implement policies to combat unmanned devices. That left agencies within the Justice Department on their own to figure how to meet the challenge, the inspector general said.

The inspector general said the lack of a formal policy left the BOP without “formal, standing guidance” on how to protect facilities from threats posed by drones so the agency did not take stronger actions.

Prisons officials said they were waiting for guidance from the attorney general because they didn’t want to proceed on a course that may be contradicted by Justice Department regulations, according to the report.

“We believe the absence of official guidance in this matter hindered the ability of DOJ components such as the BOP to discern the parameters of their authority and identify instances where it would be appropriate to request approval of drone counter-measures,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote.

Mr. Horowitz wrote that when it began the investigation in 2018, his team was told that guidance to develop anti-drone measures was in the works. However, when the probe concluded in March 2020, the attorney general guidance remained in draft.

“Without this formal guidance or an established procedure, DOJ components had to rely on ad hoc requests and provisional instructions,” Mr. Horowitz wrote.

In April, about a month after the investigation concluded, Mr. Barr issued guidance to Justice Department agencies on the use of protective measures against drones.

The guidance authorizes the BOP, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and other Justice Department agencies to intercept communications from a threatening drone or destroy it without prior consent. It also details how agencies can be approved for the use of counter-drone technologies or request a designation of facilities for protection.

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