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DHS, FBI: Crashed drone intended to attack US electrical grid, report says

Insitu Drone (Insitu Inc/WikiCommons)
November 05, 2021

A drone that crashed near an electrical substation in Pennsylvania last year was likely part of a plot to disrupt the United States electrical grid, a new federal law enforcement bulletin obtained by ABC News first revealed this week.

The October 28 memo — issued by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center — reportedly stated that the July 2020 drone incident is the first time a “modified unmanned aircraft system” was “likely being used in the United States to specifically target energy infrastructure.”

The assessment is based on drone incidents that have occurred since 2017.

The memo also said that neither the electricity supply nor the equipment sustained any damage as a result of the drone. It remains unclear who is responsible for the incident.

Intelligence found that the individual who modified the drone was probably attempting to create a “short circuit to cause damage to transformers or distribution lines, based on the design and recovery location.” The drone also “appeared to be heavily worn, indicating it was flown previously and was modified for this single flight.”

Officials said they are hoping to raise awareness of the threat drones pose to critical infrastructure, ABC News reported.

The DHS “regularly shared information with federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial officials to ensure the safety and security of all communities across the country,” a department spokesperson told CNN in a statement.

Federal law enforcement officials also called on critical infrastructure services to consider the threat of drone attacks when creating their security plans.

“[W]e 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,” the bulletin stated.

In recent months, officials have emphasized the need to protect the United States electrical grid from cyber threats, but Marty Edwards, a former top DHS official, said physical threats need consideration, as well.

“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,” said Edwards, who is now vice president of operational technology at Tenable.

In July, the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI both purchased drones from a Chinese manufacturer that the Department of Homeland Security previously warned could be “providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to the Chinese government.”

According to procurement records obtained by Axios and first reported on Tuesday, the U.S. Secret Service bought eight new DJI drones in July 2021. Further purchase records show the FBI also procured 19 of the Chinese-made DJI drones.