WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, delivered opening remarks at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on the evolving threat posed by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones. Portman expressed concern about reports that the Biden administration is purchasing Chinese-made drones and called on the House of Representatives to move swiftly on the Senate-passed United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) package since it includes the bipartisan American Security Drone Act. The American Security Drone Act would prohibit U.S. federal agencies from purchasing Chinese-made drones.
Portman also highlighted the urgency to renew authorities given to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2018 to counter the threats posed by drones by stating how drones are used for surveilling our U.S. law enforcement efforts, and for countering the smuggling drugs, like fentanyl, into the country. He emphasized how transnational criminal organizations will benefit from the lack of additional counter-drone authority for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and other agencies with responsibility for securing our nation’s border if the drone authorities are not renewed.
A transcript of his opening remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thanks to the witnesses for being here. Look forward to hearing from you. We’re here today to discuss the emerging threats posed by unmanned aircraft systems, or drones.
“In 2018, under the leadership of Senator Ron Johnson, who is here this morning, we provided, as Congress, some new authorities to the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to counter the threats posed by the use of drones. Unfortunately, those authorities are about to expire, and this expiration could not come at a worse time, in my view.
“Cartels and transnational criminal organizations use drones to smuggle drugs and surveil U.S. law enforcement in furtherance of illicit cross border activity. These cartels have also begun to weaponize drones in order to commit attacks. So far, these attacks, as far as we know, have been in Mexico. But I think weaponized drones along the border are now an emerging threat.
“To give you a sense of the scale of the problem, in joint testimony before the House Committee on Homeland Security in March, representatives from DHS said that in a previous five month period, CBP identified more than 30,000 individual flights near or at the southern border, where half of those flights violated FAA regulations.
“Again, we know that at a minimum, these drones are used for surveilling our U.S. law enforcement efforts, and for smuggling drugs into the country, including fentanyl, the deadly synthetic opioid. Relatively small amounts of it can kill hundreds of thousands, millions of people, so it’s subject to being smuggled in relatively small drones.
“My office has repeatedly asked DHS since February of this year for more information and statistics on these drone border incursions and how they plan to address this emerging threat. Moreover, the Biden administration’s Domestic Counter-Drone National Action Plan provides no explicit additional authorities for DHS to counter unmanned aircraft systems as it pertains to the border.
“Make no mistake, the Mexican transnational criminal organizations will benefit from the lack of additional counter drone authority for CBP and other agencies with responsibility for securing our nation’s borders. For these reasons, I’m eager to hear how DHS, DOJ, and the FAA have used their existing authority to mitigate the threats posed by illicit use of drones. I also hope to discuss what new authorities this Committee can give the administration to improve the counter drone mission, especially at the border.
“Recently, the Biden administration provided this Committee with a comprehensive legislative proposal, which seeks a number of changes and expansions to existing counter drone authorities. I look forward to working with Senator Peters, Senator Johnson, and other members of this Committee to review this proposal.
“The Committee has already done good work to address the threat to national security and economic competitiveness posed by Chinese-made drones when we reported out the bipartisan American Security Drone Act last year. Among other things, this legislation would prohibit the federal government from purchasing and using drones manufactured by our adversaries.
“I’m very concerned about reports of the purchase by DHS and DOJ law enforcement of Chinese drones and the national security risks that this poses. I’m pleased that our legislation that we reported out of Committee, but has not yet gone to the floor, is included in the Senate-passed USICA package. And I urge our leadership, particularly Speaker Pelosi and the House, to swiftly pass USICA so this can become law.
“With that said, I look forward to productive conversation about the current drone threats to our homeland and actions being taken to prevent them. Look forward to hearing from the witnesses. Thank you again, Mr. Chairman.”