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Meijer & Gimenez Opening Statements in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Hearing

March 31, 2022

Meijer & Gimenez Opening Statements in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Hearing

WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI), Ranking Member of the Oversight, Management and Accountability Subcommittee, and Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-FL), Ranking Member of the Transportation and Maritime Security Subcommittee, delivered the following opening statements in a joint subcommittee hearing entitled, “Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System (C-UAS): Authorities’ Effectiveness and Emerging Threats.”

Ranking Member Meijer’s Opening Statement (remarks as prepared)

Thank you, Chairman Correa, Chairwoman Watson Coleman, and Ranking Member Gimenez, for holding this hearing. I also want to thank our witnesses for joining us to talk about unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly known as “drones,” are becoming a ubiquitous part of our lives. Just like any other technology, they can be used to good and bad ends. The Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies use UAS to:

  • support firefighting and search and rescue operations,
  • to provide disaster relief, and
  • to help secure our borders.

But, as the commercial market for UAS continues to expand, there is an increased threat posed by drones. Commercial drones can threaten our airports, our critical infrastructure, and high-profile events, whether intentionally or accidentally.

To address this growing threat, Congress passed the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018. This Act gave DHS the authority to protect certain assets when there is a national security risk posed by drone. However, the authorities in this legislation did not cover such things as large, domestic airports.

The bill also required DHS to assess current Federal, state, and local authorities to counter this threat. I have to point out that DHS’s report, which the Committee just received a few months ago, is two and a half years late. For an authority that was intensely negotiated among the interagency, as well as various congressional committees of jurisdiction, such delinquency is absolutely unacceptable. Nevertheless, the report found that state and local law enforcement entities are extremely limited in what they can do to counter threats posed by UAS because of laws that were put in place to protect citizens’ privacy. Specifically, Federal laws such as the Wiretap Act of 1968 and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, while still relevant, were passed long before drones were commonplace.

These laws effectively limit who can respond to a UAS incident and how. Specifically, current statute makes it illegal for state and local law enforcement to intercept communications or access a computer without authorization. These are necessary steps to take to counter a threatening drone, yet the existing restrictions on local law enforcement make it nearly impossible to track down the operator of a drone.

Furthermore, many of our critical infrastructure sites are privately owned, and their owners are responsible for protecting these facilities. The U.S. has 16 critical infrastructure sectors whose assets and networks are so vital that any damage or destruction to them could have a debilitating effect on our national and economic security. Despite the importance of these facilities, their owners also lack the legal authority to buy and operate counter drone technologies to protect against a threatening drone.

Today, we need to examine carefully the restrictions caused by previous legislation in addition to the lack of clearly defined authorities that has resulted in a quagmire of laws that Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies are at risk of breaking if they attempt to interfere with a drone.

This problem is substantial when we consider that terrorists and criminals promote the use of drone technology for illicit means. These groups can buy commercial drones to carry and drop explosive payloads, smuggle drugs, and conduct surveillance. I know that just last week, Chief Border Patrol Agent Brian Hastings used technology to counter surveil drug smugglers. The smugglers were using a drone to scout areas for law enforcement before sending bundles of drugs across the border. Thanks to Border Patrol’s ability to use counter UAS technology, it was able to seize over 600 lbs. of marijuana. I’m curious to hear how frequent this type of occurrence is and whether they have increased over the past 5 years.

Congress has put forward some legislation to address this threat. For example, to prevent terrorists from using drones for nefarious purposes, I cosponsored Representative McCaul’s Stop Iranian Drones Act. This bill will prevent Iran and Iranian-aligned terrorist and militia groups from buying commercial drones and parts that can be used in attacks against the U.S. and our partner nations.

This type of legislation is a step in the right direction, but we need to do better.

I’m looking forward to hearing from all of you on this. Specifically, I’d like to hear from DHS on 2 things:

  • First, I want to know how DHS works with other federal agencies, and state and local law enforcement partners, to mitigate drones and how effective this coordination is.
  • Second, I want to hear what DHS needs, based on its experience with drones, particularly at our southern border, to mitigate them more effectively.

Given that the authorities granted in the Act expire in October, we need to decide how—and to what extent—we should move forward with these authorities. To that end, I think DHS needs to make its case on whether Congress should renew these authorities. As of now, I don’t think DHS has done so, but I am hopeful that DHS can provide us some clarity and can improve its handling of new authorities granted by Congress for evolving threats to homeland security.

Thank you again, to the Chairs, the Ranking Member, and the witnesses, and I yield back.

Ranking Member Gimenez’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)

Thank you, Chairman Correa, Chairwoman Watson Coleman, and Ranking Member Meijer for holding this hearing today.

The number of unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones, in our Nation’s air space is increasing and their technical capabilities are continuously improving. The evolving threat of drones used by unknown or malign actors present a challenge in keeping our country’s transportation systems, critical infrastructure, and borders secure.

In 2018, reports of drone sightings near the runway at London’s Gatwick airport caused the cancellation of 1,000 flights over the Christmas holiday, negatively impacting 140,000 passengers and resulting in a significant economic impact. In the United States this year, there have already been two commercial flights whose pilots were forced to take evasive action to avoid collision with a drone.

DHS is currently testing technology to detect, track, and identify drones entering restricted airspace. Last year, I was pleased to visit the TSA test bed at my home airport of Miami International. I look forward to hearing from today’s witnesses on how security and surveillance technology can be used at airports and surface transportation sites nationwide to protect the traveling public.

The number and sophistication of drones at the Southwest border has also increased over the last several years. I’m particularly concerned that transnational criminal organizations are using drones to move migrants and narcotics across the border and conduct surveillance of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel. It appears that the use of drones for illicit cross border activity is widespread and a critical element of these groups’ operations.

I thank the witnesses for being here today to discuss what capabilities DHS is using to counter drones through the authorities Congress gave them in the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018.

Thank you, Chairman and Madame Chairwoman, and I yield back the balance of my time.