Sensitive U.S. Sites Vulnerable to Drone Attack, DHS Assessment Says

PHOTO: A drone flying over the crowd during "Dance Avec Les Stars" performance at the Grimaldi Forum in Monte-Carlo, Monaco, June 14, 2015 . PlayTony Barson/Getty Images
WATCH Aviation Experts Express Concern Over Drones Near Airports

Sensitive sites across the United States are vulnerable to attack by store-bought drones, according to a new assessment by the Department of Homeland Security office in charge of sharing threat information with first-line personnel.

The DHS "intelligence assessment" does not cite any actual or known drone-related threats within the U.S. homeland, but it cites several recent instances overseas when terrorist groups and criminal organizations used drones "to support illicit or violent activities."

In particular, the assessment notes ISIS used aerial drone footage "to support an assault" on an oil refinery in Iraq last year, and at least two thwarted terror plots inside the United States over recent years were to include the use of drones, the assessment says.

“We cannot rule [out] the ability of future adversaries to acquire and use a commercially available [drone] as part of an attack within the Homeland," according to the assessment issued Friday by the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, or I&A.

The assessment also describes how drug-trafficking organizations use drones to "monitor law enforcement" along U.S. borders and transport loads, even to people inside prison walls.

Like so many other assessments and bulletins issued routinely by DHS, Friday’s 18-page assessment acts more as an "FYI" than a warning to state and local law enforcement.

With recreational use of drones becoming increasingly popular, it will become harder for authorities to detect and stop drones with nefarious intent, according to the assessment.

Since 2012, there have been more than 500 drone "encounters" at sensitive sites across the United States, and 218 of them have been related to the aviation system, the assessment says.

“While many of these encounters are not malicious in nature, they underscore potential security vulnerabilities -- that could be used by adversaries to leverage [drones] as part of an attack," the assessment concludes.