House Committee Leaders Ask DHS, DOE to Declassify Threats Posed by Chinese Drones

The widespread adoption of Chinese-made drones in the United States, may be ‘undermining our national security,’ the lawmakers say.

Two House Republicans are calling on the Biden administration to declassify information on national security risks posed by Chinese-manufactured drones.

Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), particularly those made by Da Jiang Innovation (DJI) and Autel Robotics, are of particular concern.

“Multiple federal agencies have warned against or banned the procurement of certain UAS originating in the PRC, due to the risks they pose. However, the details of these UAS threats remain classified,” the two lawmakers wrote, according to their June 17 letter. PRC is the acronym for China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.

The letter was sent to Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and Derek Passarelli, principal deputy under secretary at the Department of Energy.

The pair noted that DJI and Autel have control of about 90 percent of the global drone market. The two firms have commercial relationships with thousands of state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement agencies in the United States, they added.

“The widespread adoption of PRC drones by [state, local, tribal, and territorial] law enforcement agencies may inadvertently expose them to cybersecurity risks that are not well understood, while simultaneously undermining our national security,” the letter reads.

In January, CISA and the FBI issued a cybersecurity notice, warning U.S. owners and operators of critical infrastructure not to use Chinese-made drones. The two agencies said the use of Chinese drones “risks exposing sensitive information that jeopardizes U.S. national security, economic security, and public health and safety.”

“As several federal agencies and departments have taken considerable action based on classified information, it is well past time that Congress, SLTT law enforcement agencies, and the American public receive answers to questions relating to PRC drones that have remained outstanding for several years,” the letter reads.

The two lawmakers asked CISA and the Department of Energy to provide a briefing about their request before July 2.The letter detailed a list of actions the U.S. government has taken against DJI drones in recent years. The Department of Army grounded the use of DJI applications and products in August 2017, and the Pentagon banned all procurement of commercial-off-the-shelf DJI drones in May 2018.

The Department of Commerce added DJI to its entity list in December 2020, accusing the company of “enabled wide-scale human rights abuses within China through abusive genetic collection and analysis or high-technology surveillance.”

In December 2021, the Department of Treasury added DJI and seven other Chinese tech companies to its Chinese Military-Industrial Complex list, saying that the firms “support the biometric surveillance and tracking of ethnic and religious minorities in China, particularly the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.”

In China’s far-western region of Xinjiang, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has locked up more than 1 million Uyghurs in internment camps, where detainees are subjected to forced labor, torture, political indoctrination, forced abortion, and other inhumane treatment. The U.S. government has formally declared the CCP’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang as “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.”

In January, the Pentagon named DJI as one of many Chinese companies that are considered “Chinese military companies.”

The letter also mentioned a 2017 alert warning issued by Homeland Security Investigations, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, alleging that DJI drones are “likely providing U.S. critical infrastructure and law enforcement data to [the] Chinese government.”

China could then use the DJI information to “conduct physical or cyber attacks against the United States and its population,” the warning stated, and it could provide the information to “terrorist organizations, hostile non-state entities, or state-sponsored groups to coordinate attacks against U.S. critical infrastructure.”

Earlier this month, the House passed its version of the fiscal year 2025 National Defense Authorization Act for $883.7 billion in spending. The bill contained the Countering CCP Drones Act, which was introduced by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). The legislation would add DJI to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) covered list, prohibiting DJI technologies from operating on U.S. communications infrastructure.


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