Chinese drones over DC boost security, spy fears
Congressional lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security, Commerce, and Intelligence committees have received classified briefings from federal agencies and experts over concerns linked to Chinese-made drones entering restricted airspace in Washington, DC, according to a report from Politico.
The recreational drones made by the Chinese company DJI — a firm that supplies over 70% of the world’s civilian drones — are being altered by users to work around restrictions that prevent them from flying into prohibited zones, the report said. This raises concerns that the drones could also be manipulated or hacked for purposes of espionage, though officials told Politico they do not believe the Chinese government is currently operating the swarms.
“Any technological product with origins in China or Chinese companies holds a real risk and potential of vulnerability that can be exploited both now and in a time of conflict,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, vice chair of the Intelligence Committee, told Politico.
“They’re manufactured in China or manufactured by a Chinese company, but they’ll put a sticker on it of some non-Chinese company that repackages it so you don’t even know that you’re buying it,” Rubio said, adding, “But anything that’s technological has the capability of having embedded, in the software or in the actual hardware, vulnerabilities that can be exploited at any given moment.”
A spokesperson for DJI told Politico that though the firm makes an effort to ensure customers follow regulations “we can’t control the end users’ behavior.”
In July 2021, the Pentagon said that systems made by DJI Technology “pose potential threats to national security.” Following up on this, the Department of Defense in October added DJI to a blacklist of firms with alleged links to the Chinese military, paving the way for sanctions to be imposed.
“The Department is determined to highlight and counter the PRC Military-Civil Fusion strategy, which supports the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by ensuring its access to advanced technologies and expertise are acquired and developed by PRC companies, universities, and research programs that appear to be civilian entities,” the Pentagon said in a statement last month.
Tensions between the US and China have reached historic heights in recent years, and working to counter Beijing’s rising global influence is one of the few areas where lawmakers on both sides of the aisle tend to see eye-to-eye. President Joe Biden has said that the US and China are in a competition to win the 21st century. That said, the rippling global consequences of the war in Ukraine have seen both countries adopt somewhat more cautious rhetoric on the escalating rivalry.
After Biden met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping earlier this month, the White House said that the president underscored to his counterpart in Beijing that the US and China “must work together to address transnational challenges” even as they continue to compete.
Still, concerns over Chinese activities in the US continue to be a major focus in Washington, highlighting how contentious the dynamic between the two countries continues to be. Beyond consternation over drones, the FBI and congressional lawmakers in recent days have raised alarm over secret Chinese police stations operating in the US to track dissidents.
Insider reached out to the Senate Homeland Security, Commerce, and Intelligence committees for comment but has not yet received a response.