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5/8/2018 A Criminal Gang Used a Drone Swarm To Obstruct an FBI Hostage Raid - Defense One

A Criminal Gang Used a Drone Swarm To

Obstruct an Hostage Raid

And that’s just one of the ways bad guys are putting drones to use, law enforcement
officials say.

DENVER, Colorado — Last winter, on the outskirts of a large city, an hostage rescue
team set up an elevated observation post to assess an unfolding situation. Soon they
heard the buzz of small drones — and then the tiny aircraft were all around them,
swooping past in a series of “high-speed low passes at the agents in the observation
post to flush them,” the head of the agency’s operational technology law unit told
attendees of the AUVSI Xponential[1] conference here. Result: “We were then blind,”
said Joe Mazel, meaning the group lost situational awareness of the target. “It
definitely presented some challenges.”

The incident remains “law enforcement-sensitive,” Mazel said Wednesday, declining to

say just where or when it took place. But it shows how criminal groups are using small
drones for increasingly elaborate crimes.

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Mazel said the suspects had backpacked the drones to the area in anticipation of the ’s
arrival. Not only did they buzz the hostage rescue team, they also kept a continuous eye 1/4
5/8/2018 A Criminal Gang Used a Drone Swarm To Obstruct an FBI Hostage Raid - Defense One

on the agents, feeding video to the group’s other members via YouTube. “They had
people fly their own drones up and put the footage to YouTube so that the guys who
had cellular access could go to the YouTube site and pull down the video,” he said.

Mazel said counter surveillance of law enforcement agents is the fastest-growing way
that organized criminals are using drones.

Some criminal organizations have begun to use drones as part of witness intimidation
schemes: they continuously surveil police departments and precincts in order to see
“who is going in and out of the facility and who might be co-operating with police,”
he said.

Drones are also playing a greater role in robberies and the like. Beyond the well-
documented incidence of house break-ins[4], criminal crews are using them to observe
bigger target facilities, spot security gaps, and determine patterns of life: where the
security guards go and when.

Related: Terrorists Are Going to Use Artificial Intelligence[5]

In Australia, criminal groups have begun have used drones as part of elaborate
smuggling schemes, Mazel said. The gangs will monitor port authority workers. If the
workers get close to a shipping container that houses illegal substances or contraband,
the gang will call in a fire, theft, or some other false alarm to draw off security forces.

Andrew Scharnweber, associate chief of Customs and Border Protection, described how

criminal networks were using drones to watch Border Patrol officers, identify their gaps
in coverage, and exploit them.

“In the Border Patrol, we have struggled with scouts, human scouts that come across
the border. They’re stationed on various mountaintops near the border and they would
scout … to spot law enforcement and radio down to their counterparts to go around us.
That activity has effectively been replaced by drones,” said Scharnweber, who added
that cartels are able to move small amounts of high-value narcotics across the border
via drones with “little or no fear of arrest.”

Nefarious use of drones is likely to get worse before it gets better, according to several
government officials who spoke on the panel. There is no easy or quick technological
solution. While the military has effectively deployed drone-jamming equipment to the
front lines in Syria and Iraq, most of these solutions are either unsuitable or have not
been tested for use in American cities where they may interfere with cell phone signals
and possibly the avionics of other aircraft, said Ahn Duong, the program executive
officer at ’s homeland security, science and technology directorate. 2/4
5/8/2018 A Criminal Gang Used a Drone Swarm To Obstruct an FBI Hostage Raid - Defense One

The most recent version of the reauthorization[6] bill contains two amendments that
could help the situation, according to Angela Stubblefield, the ’s deputy associate
administrator in the office of security and hazardous materials safety. One would make
it illegal to “weaponize” consumer drones.

The other — and arguably more important — amendment would require drones that fly
beyond their operators’ line of sight[7] to broadcast an identity allowing law
enforcement to track and connect them to a real person.

“Remote identification is a huge piece” of cutting down on drone crime, Stubblefield

said. “Both from a safety perspective… enabling both air traffic control and other  
[unmanned areal systems] to know where another is and enabling beyond line-of-sight
operations. It also has an extensive security benefit to it, which is to enable threat
discrimination. Remote [8] connected to registration would allow you to have
information about each , who owns it, operates it, and thus have some idea what its
intent is,” said Stubblefield.

But even if both amendments pass as part of the re-authorization, it will be some time
before they take effect, so it will be the Wild West in America’s skies a while longer.

Patrick Tucker is technology editor for Defense One. He’s also the author of The
Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?
(Current, 2014). Previously, Tucker was deputy editor for The Futurist for nine
years. Tucker has written about emerging technology in Slate, ... Full bio [9]







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