Secret Service to use White House as drone playground

Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online – @BednarChuck

The US Secret Service has announced that it will begin conducting drone tests near the White House and throughout the nation’s capital, but the reasons for the exercises remain unclear.

According to the Washington Post, the agency announced the plans in a brief statement released on Tuesday. That statement was only 76 words long, the newspaper said, and officials at the Secret Service declined to answer even basic questions about the program.

Here, read for yourself

The full statement released by the Secret Service on Tuesday reads as follows:

“The United States Secret Service, in conjunction with other inter-agency partners, will conduct a series of exercises involving unmanned aircraft systems, in the coming days and weeks.”

“Because these exercises will be conducted within the normally flight restricted areas in the Washington D.C. area, they have been carefully planned and will be tightly controlled. In preparation for these exercises the Secret Service has coordinated with all appropriate federal, state and local agencies.”

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Secret Service spokesperson Nicole Mainar declined to inform the Post about what types of drones would be used and what the tests would entail.

Wild speculation

As Engadget points out, the announcement comes about a month after an inebriated intelligence officer crashed a DJI Phantom drone on White House grounds in the middle of the night. That incident temporarily forced DJI to issue an update preventing its products from flying near the White House, although that update was scrapped after it causes unexpected flight issues.

“Maybe secret service is finally testing technology that can detect if drones carrying explosives or anything harmful to the president are nearby – the crash certainly highlighted security risks posed by unchecked hobby UAVs flying over the head of state’s residence,” the site speculated. “Of course, the exercises could have another purpose altogether, but we can’t say for sure.”

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The Washington Post added that commercial and recreational drones “are a growing concern for the federal government, pilots and the airline industry,” and that in addition to their potential use in transporting weapons or explosives, unmanned aircrafts are “increasingly interfering with air traffic and threatening passenger planes in the absence of oversight and clear safety standards.”

The FAA’s feelings on drones

A 2014 report from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that near-collisions involving airplanes and drones had spiked in the previous six months, with 25 incidents taking place during that time. Those events were among 175 in which pilots and air-traffic control personnel spotted drones near airports or in restricted airspace, the newspaper noted.

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Congress passed a law ordering the FAA to safely integrate unmanned aircraft into the US airspace back in 2012, but those regulations have been slow to develop. Under current federal guidelines, hobbyists to pilot small drones for recreational purposes as long as those vehicles are kept under 400 feet and five miles away from airports or other restricted areas, they added.


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