Drones: Threat From Above

Recent operations in Iraq and Syria clearly highlight the viability of unmanned aerial systems as a legitimate terrorist tactic.

Executive Summary

Recent operations in Iraq and Syria clearly highlight the viability of unmanned aerial systems as a legitimate terrorist tactic and one that should be a focus for law enforcement, especially during special event planning. The threat is significant enough to motivate world leaders to address it at the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. Additionally, echoing that concern, is testimony by senior military commanders to Congressional leaders in March 2017.

Commonly referred to as “Drones,” these systems may truly be programmable, self-directing fixed-wing or rotary aerial vehicles. However, they are most commonly not true Drones, but small unmanned piloted vehicles which provide positive control and retargeting. Collectively, the term “Drone” is popular mainly due to media coverage of U.S. military operations.

Drone platforms have developed as a significant tool and benefit for public safety and commercial businesses. Likewise, they have also developed as a significant threat. With the increase in use by citizens and private sector, the costs for drones has continued to decrease, making it a viable tool used by criminals and terrorists.

The State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) formally announced its Drone program in January 2017 on an online propaganda channel. These operations focus mainly on reconnaissance of Iraqi and Kurdish forces. ISIL also uses Drones offensively in attacks with improvised explosives. In Syria and Israel, Hezbollah uses Iranian-supplied vehicles that have greater capability and logistic support. Other terrorist groups and “lone wolves,” from jihadists to anarchists and drug cartels, could also use Drone tactics. It is not beyond possibility for legal demonstrations to turn deadly by “black bloc” factions and anti-constitutional infiltrators.

Technology improvements made by manufactures to gain a greater audience now allow for drones to be flown by anyone with little or no experience in aerial flying. Where an active shooter targets crowds that are contained within a set enclosure, a Drone attack can target a wide area of open space.

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