Secret Service to Expand Drone Capabilities at Home in Trump Era

The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States provided a chance to put its anti-drone technology into action. After a year of planning, security experts were relieved to have pulled off a seamless operation, amid the growing threat from weaponized drones the world over.

Just four months ago, the Islamic State group succeeded in detonating a bomb attached to a drone in Mosul, killing two Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers and wounding two French soldiers. This attack highlighted the growing threat of what U.S. special forces now call “flying IEDs”, which are now being used on a daily basis in the embattled city, according to the U.S. Central Military Command. Back in D.C., strategists had been busy exploring every possible way to prevent such an attack on January 20.

Civilian drones are already prohibited from flying in Washington, as noted by former Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson, who said that the potential for a drone attack was “something we have thought about, we have planned for, and there is technology to deal with it.”

The types of “flying IEDs” employed by Islamic State militants are often capable of flying at speeds of up to 100mph, and are invisible to radar. Mounting an effective ground response to such a threat can be extremely challenging, especially when there is no advanced warning of where the drone might come from and when it might attack. The potential of such drones to be used in a terrorist attack in a large city was highlighted in 2015, when a Japanese anti-nuclear protester succeeded in strapping nuclear waste to one, and flying it directly to the Prime Minister’s residence in the heart of Tokyo.

Former CIA targeting officer, John Desmond – who is now the VP of business development DroneShield – believes the threat is real and growing:

It’s a real threat. If you look at what’s going on overseas in the Middle East, it’s a proven threat, not a theoretical one.

Desmond’s company aims to provide answers to the security questions now posed by armed drones. In doing so, it also gives us some clues as to what technology Department of Homeland Security is providing to the Secret Service for these purposes.

DroneShield is essentially a listening device designed to detect and pinpoint the location of any airborne drones in the vicinity. A series of parabolic microphones listens specifically for the giveaway sound of a drone’s rotor blades. Once detected, the target’s location is relayed to a ground agent who fires radio waves to disrupt the drone’s communications systems. Once the agent has taken control of the drone, they are then able to land it safely at a designated site, where it can then be inspected and disarmed, if necessary. This system has been employed for the last two years at the Boston Marathon.

With the vast array of vibrations occurring over a city’s airspace, it might seem an incredibly hard task to tell what is actually a drone and what isn’t. John Franklin, Chief Scientist at DroneShield explains how this is possible:

A lot of sounds you think of are a lot lower frequency than these drones. What goes into telling them apart is both the frequencies they’re emitting noise at and also how that’s changed over time.

(Cover photo by Iraqi Ministry of Defense)

Andrew Maxwell

Andrew is a former journalist who now works as a freelance writer specializing in tech and gadgets. He currently resides in Thailand.

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