What Does the FBI do with its Drones?

Saturday, April 19, 2014
(photo: Mesa County Sheriff's Unmanned Operations Team/AP)

From matters of national security to kidnappings, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has selectively employed drones in U.S. airspace for a variety of cases.

The FBI has used unmanned aerial vehicles at least 10 times since 2006, based on information contained in a 2013 letter from the bureau to Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), according to Motherboard.


That letter reportedly said eight of the missions were related to criminal cases, while the other two dealt with national security. But FBI documents obtained by Motherboard through the Freedom of Information Act revealed some additional information about the bureau’s drone program.


At least eight missions, which may or may not be those discussed in the letter to Paul, took place within a two-year period (February 2011 to February 2013), according to the documents. Motherboard also learned that five other missions were approved, but it was unknown if any of them were carried out.


Some of the deployed drones were used in investigations of dog-fighting rings and drug trafficking operations in 2011. That same year, the FBI “held a meeting at Quantico to consider flying drones as part of Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigations of Mexican organizations,” Motherboard’s Shawn Musgrave wrote.


The documents also showed that the FBI deployed a drone on May 9, 2012, to assist agents with locating a “most wanted” fugitive involved in a kidnapping.


While the documents don’t say who the fugitive was, Musgrave reported that the FBI added Adam Mayes to its Ten Most Wanted List on the same day. Mayes was being pursued for the murder of a Tennessee woman, Jo Ann Bain, and her oldest daughter, Adrienne, and for kidnapping the woman’s two younger girls, Alexandria and Kyliyah. Mayes eventually killed himself after law enforcement closed in on him. The two girls were recovered.


The FBI declared that drone mission “a signal achievement in the history of the FBI,” according to the documents.


The bureau also used a drone in another kidnapping case a year later in Alabama. No other details were provided.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Every Drone Mission the FBI Admits to Flying (by Shawn Musgrave, Motherboard)

Homeland Security Requests Lid on Drone Data after Internal Documents Reveal 500 U.S. Flights (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)


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