Wackobirds, you are officially vindicated in your worries over domestic drone use: FBI Director Robert Mueller told Senate lawmakers Wednesday that the agency has several drones and has yet to adopt strict policies and guidelines for use of the aircraft.
But according to Mueller’s testimony, the lack of policies to protect American citizens’ privacy has not deterred the FBI’s use of drones for domestic surveillance operations.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Mueller, “Does the FBI use drones for surveillance on U.S. soil?”
Mueller’s answer was a straightforward affirmative, though he added that the FBI only “very seldom” conducted surveillance of American citizens on American soil with the unmanned aircraft.
“It’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident where you need the capability,” Mueller responded when Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) prodded him on the matter. “It is very narrowly focused on particularized cases and particularized needs.’’
The director said that he wasn’t sure if the FBI had any “official” agreements with agencies like the National Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Defense to receive assistance and share information collected in the agency’s use of drones.
“To the extent that it relates to the air space there would be some communication back and forth [between agencies],” Mueller provided as a vague answer to a question about interagency drone activity over U.S. soil.
With regard to providing the public any further information regarding FBI justification for drone use and other domestic spy tactics, Mueller gave the impression that transparency is not high on the government’s list of priorities.
“There is a price to be paid for that transparency,” Mueller said. “I certainly think it would be educating our adversaries as to what our capabilities are.”