Secret Service Can’t Protect White House From Drones

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Today in things we probably don’t want advertised in the newspaper: If anyone wants to fly a drone into the White House, the Secret Service can’t really stop them. Early on Monday morning, a Secret Service official happened to spot a two-foot-wide quadcopter drone flying over the White House fence, but agents were unable to bring it down. It crashed on the South Lawn, and a few hours later a government employee came forward, saying he was flying the device for recreational purposes and lost control of it. Though it looks like the whole thing was an accident, he had good timing. The Washington Post reports that just four days ago, a panel of experts warned lawmakers that the Secret Service’s inability to identify and take down drones is one of the White House’s biggest vulnerabilities.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service have been studying the devices, which are relatively cheap and could be modified to carry weapons. The Secret Service released a photo of the device that crashed on the White House lawn, and according to the New York Times, it appears to be a DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter, which sells on Amazon.com for $479. There are larger models on the market that could carry up to 30 pounds.

While there’s a plan for shooting down a plane flying over the White House, apparently stopping a drone is harder. (A military official said the Defense Department “typically scrambles fighter aircraft for aerial threats over Washington, but when it gets to a toy, that’s not something the military typically addresses.”) Their size makes them difficult to spot and shoot down. Plus, most aren’t equipped with transmitters that broadcast their location, and it’s illegal to use devices that interfere with the GPS signals they use for navigation.

There are several companies that provide drone-detection systems, which can sense a drone’s acoustic signature and sound an alarm. They’re popular with celebrities trying to protect themselves from paparazzi, but it seems the White House has yet to adopt the technology. An official told the Post that the Secret Service is “still trying to work through this, how to defend against them.” In the meantime, North West has better drone protection than President Obama.