Rising terror threat: Intelligence bulletin reveals attack against U.S. electrical grid using drone

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HARRISBURG, PA – An internal government intelligence bulletin released this month reveals a plot against the United States power grid involving the use of a  DJI Mavic 2 drone during a 2020 attempted attack on a Pennsylvania power substation.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) published the bulletin on Oct. 28, 2021.

According to the report first obtained by ABC News, the internal FBI memo described the incident when a drone crashed near the unidentified electricity substation on July 16, 2020, as the first known case of a “modified unmanned aircraft system” targeting U.S. infrastructure:

“This is the first known instance of a modified UAS [unmanned aerial system] likely being used in the United States to specifically target energy infrastructure.

“We assess that a UAS recovered near an electrical substation was likely intended to disrupt operations by creating a short circuit to cause damage to transformers or distribution lines, based on the design and recovery location.”

The drone, which crashed atop a building near an unidentified Pennsylvania power substation, was likely intended to disrupt operations by creating a short circuit to damage transformers, according to the memo.

To conceal the device’s identification, the person or group responsible removed the memory card, camera, and all markings. Federal sources told CNN that the intelligence alert is now being sent now to “raise awareness about the event and the wider threat of drones to key infrastructure.”

The bulletin said the drone “appeared to be heavily worn, indicating it was flown previously and was modified for this single flight.” The report said the responsible party made changes to the drone, including applying a copper wire hanging from the bottom of the craft, to create a “short circuit to cause damage to transformers or distribution lines, based on the design and recovery location.”

The method of attack, using the copper wire hanging from the drone in an attempted to cause a short-circuit, can theoretically be a successful method of attack. The Untied States has conducted similar attacks on a much larger scale during the Guld War in 1991.

The U.S. military employed Tomahawk cruise missiles loaded with spools of highly conductive carbon fiber wire against power infrastructure to create blackouts in Iraq during the war.

In another example, F-117 Nighthawk stealth combat jets dropped cluster bombs loaded with BLU-114/B submunitions packed with graphite filament over Serbia to the same effect in 1999.

While counterintelligence officials in the United States have concentrated heavily on cyberattacks against the U.S. power grid, the use of drones poses yet another front in the struggle to safeguard infrastructure.

Marty Edwards, a former senior DHS official who is now vice president of operational technology at security firm Tenable, told CNN:

“All of the attention being paid to cybersecurity right now is important, but we have to remember that physical threats to the grid like this are quite real.”

As drones have become easier to acquire, especially from Chinese companies creating smaller and cheaper versions, the threat to the U.S. should not be ignored. Federal law enforcement warned in the bulletin that  critical infrastructure needs to take the threat seriously and should make preparations for the threrat of similar drone attacks in their safety plans:

“We expect illicit (unmanned aircraft system) activity to increase over energy sector and other critical infrastructure facilities as use of these systems in the United States continues to expand.

“To date, no operator has been identified and we are producing this assessment now to expand awareness of this event to federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement and security partners who may encounter similarly modified UAS.”

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Secret Service, FBI purchase drones from company with possible ties to Chinese Communist Party

September 23, 2021

 

WASHINGTON, DC- What could possibly go wrong?

Axios reports that the Biden administration is purchasing surveillance drones manufactured by a Chinese company which the Pentagon has previously designated a potential national security threat. Seriously.

Axios noted that the federal government is exposing itself to spying by the Chinese even as efforts have been undertaken to ensure that military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies are protected from Chinese technology which has been potentially compromised and a source of spying by the communist nation.

They report that efforts to do so have been sidelined by “bureaucratic red tape.”

According to the report, the U.S. Secret Service (yes, the agency that protects the president and other government officials) purchased eight surveillance drones from DJI, a company based in Shenzen which is one of the prominent commercial drone producers in the U.S. market, as well as other countries.

That purchase was made on July 26, according to procurement records obtained by an industry publication, IPVM and shared with Axios.

That purchase came only three days after the defense department issued a statement in which they noted DJI products “pose potential threats to national security.”

In that notification, the DoD noted that a recent report had been released (from source which is not named) in which: “certain models of DJI systems had been found to be approved for procurement and operations for US government departments and agencies. This report was inaccurate and uncoordinated, and its unauthorized release is currently under review by the department.” [emphasis added]

Further, Axios reported that the FBI purchased 19 DJI drones only a few days earlier from a company called Adorama in New York City, which happens to be in the congressional district of Carolyn Maloney (D), according to a contract summary.

 The drones manufactured by DJI are popular in both the personal and commercial spaces, users are also required to “download proprietary DJI software, and to fly using mapping databases that have the potential to be monitored remotely,” Axios wrote.

Despite the security concerns surrounding their products, DJI insists that such concerns are “unfounded” and based on “misunderstanding or misrepresentation of its technology.”

Axios further reported that in 2017, the Department of Homeland Security, under which the Secret Service falls, said with “moderate confidence” that the company was “providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government.”

Two years later, the Department of the Interior which uses the same products “grounded its entire non-emergency drone fleet” due to concerns over possible involvement by the Chinese government.

Furthermore, last year the Commerce Department added DJI to an “export blacklist” after it was reported by Bloomberg that DJI had given surveillance technology to Chinese security forces in Xinjiang Province, where Muslim Uighurs have been forced into slavery in internment camps.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) slammed the government for the purchase of DJI drones given their ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

“Given everything we know about the Chinese Communist Party and its companies, there is absolutely no excuse for any government agency to use DJI drones, or any other drones manufactured in countries identified as national security threats,” he wrote in a statement.

“DJI’s cyber security vulnerabilities are well documented.”

A company spokesman disputed allegations the company’s data insecure or has been compromised to Chinese communist officials.

“Claims that somehow DJI products are transmitting customer data back to China, or to DJI, or anywhere they’re not supposed to be…are just false,” Adam Lisberg told Axios.

“No one has ever found a deliberate attempt to steal data, or any of the other fantasies promoted by some of our critics. It simply isn’t true,” he said.

Axios reached out to both the Secret Service and the FBI, both of which refused to comment, with the Secret Service citing “operational security.”

Over recent years, some lawmakers have taken measures to crack down on the purchase of Chinese technology in particular in the telecommunications and surveillance spaces, with the most prominent case involving telecom and consumer electronics conglomerate Huawei Technologies.

However action toward phasing out Chinese technology have been hindered due to “bureaucratic constraints and the cost and complexity of replacing the systems,” Axios said.

Some sources whom Axios contacted said it is possible the purchases were made as a means of obtaining counterintelligence on the systems, noting that contained within the Pentagon ban on purchases of off the shelf Chinese drones makes exceptions for purchases designed to drill down on countermeasures.

However the language contained within both the FBI and Secret Service drone purchases seems to possibly debunk that theory, with the Secret Service, for example noting that the DJI drones will “supplement the agency’s existing fleet of small unmanned aircraft and improved [sic] mission support though the use of the most up-to-date equipment nd [sic] software.”

In the case of the FBI, they said the DJI Phantom 4 Pro model was “the only commercially available consumer [drone] to combine all [its required] capabilities at an acceptable cost.”

“If the federal government is purchasing DJI drones for counter-drone or other security research, fine,” said Klon Kitchen, a defense and cybersecurity expert at the American Enterprise Institute told Axios in an email.

“But otherwise, in a world where you have plenty of alternatives—including some U.S. alternatives that are very good—why would federal agencies assume the inherent risks of Chinese-made systems?”

Perhaps we should see if Hunter Biden has investments in DJI? That might answer the question.
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