FBI Director Robert Mueller has admitted that the Bureau uses aerial drones to conduct surveillance within the domestic United States. During his testimony at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier today, Mueller bluntly told Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that the FBI uses drones, but does so "in a very, very minimal way, and seldom." Later, after being pressed by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), he added that "It's very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident where you need the capability."
"I think the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the drone, and the use of the drone and the very few regulations that are on it today, and the booming industry of commercial drones," said Feinstein, who ironically has spent much of the past few weeks adamantly defending the NSA's warrantless surveillance programs, which critics have argued do not have adequate oversight. When asked whether the FBI has implemented guidelines for the use of drones, Mueller admitted the agency is only in the "initial stages" of doing so. "I will tell you that our footprint is very small. We have very few of limited use, and we're exploring not only the use, but the necessary guidelines for that use," he said.
"our footprint is very small"
The admission comes as little surprise — a Department of Homeland Security initiative which began last year has been working to "facilitate and accelerate the adoption" of drones by law enforcement agencies. A bill passed by Congress last year also mandates that the FAA prepare airspace regulations for the use of unmanned aircraft by public and private entities by 2015.
The Department of Homeland Security has been known to use Predator drones for routine patrols of the US-Mexico border, but so far few instances have been made public of the FBI and other law enforcement groups using them over US soil. One example came in February, when an FBI drone was used to monitor a hostage situation in Midland City, Alabama.