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Bridget Johnson


June 20, 2013 - 2:42 pm

Get ready, Senate podiums and Mark Kirk’s candy-stocked desk: The man behind this Congress’ 13-hour filibuster is on fire again about drones.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was all ears when FBI Director Robert Mueller confirmed to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the bureau uses drones for the surveillance of American citizens.

“You also confirmed that the FBI is currently utilizing these surveillance tactics in the absence of any operational guidelines,” Paul wrote Mueller today. “I am disturbed by the revelation that the FBI has unilaterally decided to begin using drone surveillance technology without a governance policy, and thus without the requisite assurances that the constitutional rights of Americans are being protected.”

Paul fired off a list of 11 questions that he wants answered by July 1.

1)      How long has the FBI been using drones without stated privacy protections or operational guidelines?

2)      Why is the FBI only now beginning to develop guidelines for the use of drone surveillance?

3)      Is the FBI working in consultation with Congress in developing operational guidelines for drone surveillance?

4)      What measures do you intend to adopt to protect Fourth Amendment and privacy rights?

5)      Will the FBI make publicly available all rules, procedures and operational guidelines for drone use?

6)      Given that they have already been used, what has the FBI done with information already collected by drones?  What are the rules governing storage of information collected via drone?

7)      In what circumstances would the FBI elect to use drone surveillance? Does this surveillance require a warrant?

8)      How many drones does the FBI possess? Is the FBI seeking to expand its inventory of drones?

9)      Are these drones armed? Do they have the capacity to be armed? If so, what guidelines will be put in place regarding the arming of drones and the use of armed drones?

10)  Is there ever a scenario you can envision where the FBI would seek to arm its drones?

11)  Does the FBI currently prohibit federal grant funds under its jurisdiction from being used by recipients to purchase drones?

“In the future, I hope that your agency intends to be more forthcoming with information on its use of drone surveillance,” Paul noted.

Yesterday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Mueller, “Does the FBI own or currently use drones and, if so, for what purpose?”

“Yes, and for surveillance,” the director responded.

“So, instead of asking a question, I think I can assume since you do use drones that the FBI has developed a set of policies, procedures, and operational limits on the use of drones and whether or not any privacy impact on American citizens,” Grassley continued.

“We are in the initial stages of doing that. I will tell you that our footprint is very small. We have very few and of limited use. We are exploring not only the use, but also the necessary guidelines for that use,” Mueller said, admitting to Grassley that the drones are used for surveillance on domestic soil.

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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new March..sigh, the problems that the use of drones as opposed to conventional surveilllance techniques are two fold with one problem causing the second. The first is techno overkill, they aren't just casually efficient. Using the current models is like parking a KH-11 satellite not at 1900 miles up, but at 19,000 feet. The FBI warrant to loiter and observe a specific location would have to entail an examination of any and all who came with-in a specific distance/time frame of it. That means sorting the wheat from the chaff. That means running your plate and then you to determine your, if any, relationship to the target. If they're unsure? What do you think happens next? Yep, you just became a target of a FBI inquiry slash investigation because maybe a CI said one of the guys that was an associate of the true target drove a "dark blue SUV" and guess what you drive. Paranoid, no I'm a firm believer in the EF up factor in big anything, but there you have it. The second problem is weaponization. There is no way on Gods green earth that the guys that brought us Ruby Ridge and Waco won't with the best intentions in the world,or not, end up vaporizing innocent American citizens sooner or later. Doubt me? Your privilege.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Well, so much for nude sunbathing in your own back yard.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It’s hard to believe that Grassley and Paul could be unaware of the fact the FBI has long operated a lawful aviation surveillance program ( One would also think these lawmakers would know that it is settled case-law that warrantless aerial surveillance is permissible (Florida v. Riley, 488 U.S. 445 (1989).

The word, “drones” must really bring in the contributions from the tin foil hat crowd.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Then the FBI will have no problems answering their questions.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
That is correct. The FBI will have no problem answering those silly questions.

Speaking of questions, perhaps Sen. Paul could answer why he is concerned about the FBI violating the 4th amendment from drones but not from piloted aircraft or surveillance vans. It is all the same legal analysis. Paul is focusing on drones because he knows it will excite his donor/voter base like a bell for Pavlov’s dogs.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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