Risks of Chinese Drones: Call to Declassify Information


Chairs of Homeland Security and Energy and Commerce Committees Urge DHS and DOE to Release Information on Potential Threats

On June 20, 2024, House Committee on Homeland Security Chair Mark E. Green, MD (R-TN), and House Committee on Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) called on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Energy (DOE) to declassify information related to national security threats posed by drones manufactured in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The request highlights drones made by DJI and Autel Robotics (Autel), which together hold a significant share of the global drone market.

In their letter addressed to DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Jen Easterly and DOE’s Principal Deputy Under Secretary Derek Passarelli, Green and Rodgers argue that public interest outweighs any justification for keeping these findings classified. They state, “It has come to our attention that there are findings from Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) pertaining to national security risks associated with drones that have been produced, manufactured, or assembled in the PRC.”

The Risks of Chinese Drones

The letter underscores the complexity added by the widespread use of DJI and Autel drones by state and local law enforcement agencies in the U.S. The members express concern over potential cybersecurity risks and the broader implications for national security. “The widespread adoption of PRC drones by SLTT law enforcement agencies may inadvertently expose them to cybersecurity risks that are not well understood, while simultaneously undermining our national security,” the letter states.

The call for declassification follows a series of actions and warnings from various federal agencies regarding the security risks associated with Chinese-manufactured drones. In August 2017, Homeland Security Investigations issued an alert warning that DJI drones might be providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government. Subsequent measures included a halt in procurement of DJI drones by the Department of Defense and a placement of DJI on the Department of Commerce’s Entity List.

Recent legislative actions reflect growing concern over these issues. The House of Representatives recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2025, which includes a provision potentially banning the sale of DJI drones in the U.S. Additionally, new legislation aims to reauthorize and reform counter-UAS authorities and prohibit DHS from financing drones from certain foreign adversarial countries.

The letter concludes with a call for transparency, stating, “There is a strong public interest in understanding the threats posed by PRC-manufactured drones. As several federal agencies and departments have taken considerable action based on classified information, it is well past time that Congress, SLTT law enforcement agencies, and the American public receive answers to questions relating to PRC drones that have remained outstanding for several years.”

Green and Rodgers have requested a briefing on the matter for Committee staff by July 2, 2024. The request is also addressed to key officials, including the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretaries of DHS and DOE.

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Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.


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