DHS and FBI rely on Chinese drones that Russia is using in Ukraine war

Japan Drones
A Phantom 4, developed by major Chinese consumer-drone maker DJI, flies during its demonstration flight in Tokyo, Thursday, March 3, 2016. DJI has its eyes on the potentially lucrative Japanese market after regulations on drones were relaxed here three months ago. The drone which has propellers, cameras, sensors and automatic tracking technology, zipped around and followed a stunt bicycle-rider, successfully dodging a signboard. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi) Shizuo Kambayashi/AP

DHS and FBI rely on Chinese drones that Russia is using in Ukraine war

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Federal agencies are relying on the same sort of Chinese-made surveillance drones being used by the Russian military on the Ukraine battlefield — despite the United States government sanctioning the Beijing company.

The FBI and DHS have all admitted they use Chinese-made drones from Shenzhen DJI Sciences and Technologies, which goes by DJI, despite significant national security concerns. Documents indicate that the Secret Service bought multiple DJI drones in 2022. The Department of Interior also said that, in 2021, 75% of its flights were conducted by DJI drones. Brad Wiegmann, deputy assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee last year that the FBI is buying and making use of drones from DJI.

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Samantha Vinograd, DHS’s acting assistant secretary for counterterrorism, also confirmed her department was buying and using foreign drones in certain circumstances.

DJI drones have since been revealed to have become a key part of the Russian military’s toolkit during its invasion of Ukraine.

Drone expert Faine Greenwood wrote in February that “out of the 463 drone incident entries in which I could positively identify the drone being used” in Ukraine, “it was a DJI product 59 percent of the time.” It was reported in March by the New York Times that “China has sold more than $12 million in drones and drone parts” to Russia in the year since the Ukraine invasion, with China’s DJI and roughly 70 other Chinese exporters selling 26 brands of Chinese drones to Russia since early 2022. The outlet said a portion of the drones “were sold directly by DJI, via iFlight Technology, a subsidiary of DJI.”

Russian Army General Yuri Baluyevsky was quoted in August 2022 that “the Mavic quadcopter drone made by China’s DJI has become a true symbol of modern warfare” in a Weibo post by Russia’s embassy in China. The post has since been deleted.

The potential concerns with DJI drones have grown as Congressional Republicans have demanded the White House take more drastic steps to challenge Beijing’s rhetorical, economic, and nonlethal military support to Russia. Congress has also unsuccessfully sought to ban all federal agency use of the Chinese drones and to ban any federal funding for them.

The bipartisan American Security Drone Act of 2023 was introduced in February 2023 by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). The bill “prohibits” federal agencies from “procuring” certain drones from countries “identified as national security threats” and also “provides a timeline to end current use of these drones.”

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The Pentagon labeled DJI a “Chinese Military Company” late last year as part of its effort “to highlight and counter the People’s Republic of China’s Military-Civil Fusion strategy, which supports the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army.”

The Commerce Department added DJI to its blacklist in December 2020, and the Treasury Department designated it as a “Chinese Military-Industrial Complex” company in December 2021, in part because it “has provided drones to the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, which are used to surveil Uyghurs in Xinjiang.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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