Chinese-made drones flying in DC’s restricted airspace are raising new spy fears

  • There are growing concerns in DC about the potential of Chinese-made recreational drones being used for espionage.
  • Congressional lawmakers have received secret briefings from U.S. agencies on these concerns, according to a Politico report.
  • Chinese-made drones have repeatedly flown into restricted airspace over Washington DC, the report said.

Congressional lawmakers in the Senate Homeland Security, Commerce and Intelligence Committees have received secret briefings from federal agencies and experts about concerns surrounding Chinese-made drones entering restricted airspace in Washington, DC, according to a report by Politico.

Chinese company DJI’s recreational drones — a company that supplies over 70% of the world’s civilian drones — are being modified by users to circumvent restrictions preventing them from flying into prohibited zones, the report said. This raises concerns that the drones could also be tampered with or hacked for spying purposes, although officials told Politico they don’t believe the Chinese government is currently operating the swarms.

“Any technological product originating in China or Chinese companies carries real risk and potential for vulnerabilities that can be exploited both now and in times of conflict,” Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, told Politico.

“They’re made in China or by a Chinese company, but they put a sticker on a non-Chinese company that repackages it, so you don’t even know you’re buying it,” Rubio said. adding, “But anything technological has the ability to embed vulnerabilities in the software or in the actual hardware that can be exploited at any time.”

A DJI spokesperson told Politico that while the company strives to ensure customers are compliant, “we cannot control end-user behavior.”

In July 2021, the Pentagon said DJI Technology systems “pose potential threats to national security.” In response, the Department of Defense blacklisted DJI in October from companies suspected of being linked to the Chinese military, paving the way for sanctions to be imposed.

“The Ministry is determined to highlight and counter the PRC’s military-civilian fusion strategy, which supports the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by ensuring their access to advanced technologies and expertise from PRC companies, universities and universities acquiring and developing 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 highs in recent years, and fighting Beijing’s growing global influence is one of the few areas where lawmakers on both sides of the aisle tend to agree. President Joe Biden has said that the US and China are in a contest to win the 21st century. However, the unfolding global fallout from the war in Ukraine has prompted both countries to adopt slightly more cautious rhetoric about the escalating rivalry.

After Biden met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping earlier this month, the White House said the president had stressed to his counterpart in Beijing that the US and China “must work together to address transnational challenges,” even as they continue to work with each other compete.

Still, concerns about Chinese activities in the US continue to take center stage in Washington, showing how contentious the dynamic between the two countries remains. Aside from the consternation over drones, in recent days the FBI and congressional lawmakers have been sounding the alarm about secret Chinese police stations operating in the US to track down dissidents.

Insider has reached out to the Senate Homeland Security, Commerce and Intelligence Committees for comment but has not yet received a response.


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