Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Looks like I was right about the terrorist drone threat

In August I warned that at least some of the "close encounters of the drone kind" experienced at and near US airports recently were probably caused by terrorists.  I went on to point out that they had successfully used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's) in attacks overseas, and that I expected the same to happen here.

Now comes this testimony to Congress from the FBI.

Wray issued a stark warning about the growing danger of drone and cyber terror. Terrorists want to use drones to drop grenade-sized explosives, toxins, or other harmful substances on Americans, just as they have done abroad. “We’ve seen that overseas already with growing frequency,” he said. “I think the expectation is that it’s coming here imminently.” Drones, he added, were “relatively easy to acquire, relatively easy to operate, and quite difficult to disrupt and monitor.”

Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, agreed. “Two years ago this was not a problem,” he told the committee. “A year ago it was an emerging problem. Now it’s a real problem. So we’re quickly trying to up our game.” He also said that it was unclear which agency was in charge of countering this threat, a confusion that concerned several senators.

There's more at the link.

Think of this in the light of the Las Vegas shootings earlier this week.  What if, instead of rifles fired a long way from the scene, basically spreading unaimed bullets all over the landscape, terrorists used drones to drop grenades or other munitions across the area?  It wouldn't be hard to do, and the attack could be launched from a greater distance, making it much harder to find - let alone stop - the attackers.

Terrorists may be evil, but they're not stupid, and they can use tools as well as any of us.



Glen Filthie said...

Oh bull.

If you want to pack explosives onto a drone - that is going to require a heavy lift machine. I'm not saying it can't be done - but none of the over the counter drones you buy today will do it. Their payload capacities are seriously measured in grams.

Now, if I were crazy (and I'm not!!!) - I would probably rather use something like and RC airplane in a kamikaze dive bomber role. Even then, you are talking about a BIG RC aircraft. The perp would have to bring it in, assemble it, and fly it and be within line of sight of his target. Far easier just to open up on your victims with a gun, as far as I'm concerned. Or drive into them with a truck.

Really, Pete - as a gun owner you should be dead set against trying to panic people with BS information. I get enough of that crap as a gun owner. Thanks to guys like you my elderly parents are all in a flap about hobby drones now. Is it too much to ask people to inform themselves...?

kamas716 said...

During Sheriff Paul Laney's presentation on the No DAPL protests he mentioned that the 'protestors' (terrorists) tried to ram a drone into the tail rotor of one of the helicopters being used by law enforcement for surveillance.

Andrew said...

Hobby drones can be used as eyes and ears for heavier attack drones. Hobby drones can also carry small amounts of biologicals like anthrax, ricin (which is available to anyone who has castor plants and wants to make some) and other items.

As to explosives, small, lightweight claymore mines (which I have built as a stupid kid) are large hobby-drone carryable.

Drones are potentially a serious threat. One which a few Cassandras are pointing out and are being ignored. A small drone can be used to prepare and initiate an attack on a municipal water plant (which sounds stupid, but the dead zone around them, from a potential chlorine escape, is many times larger than the actual plant.)

Drones are already being used by ISIS overseas. It isn't too far to consider them being weaponized over here soon.

Already they have been used to spy and intrude on people's privacy (most famously the mostly naked Mike Rowe shotgun incident) and to disrupt private individuals (most famously the PETA drones used to disrupt hunters.) The idiot Sea Shepherds have already used theirs to drop stink bombs on their targets.

If PETA and the idiot Sea Shepherds can do it, when will the first documented incident of a violent terrorist threat occur?

And I have guns and have had rc aircraft and hobby drones, just saying. I have always known the potential threat of all my hobbies, from model rockets (yes, I did fire explosives in mine, back in the day) to martial sports to rc aircraft (what, never used your plane to drop a 'fake' bomb or 'transport' a cargo?) I have never driven drunk, I have just done other stupid, dangerous things.

Aesop said...

A hand grenade weighs about a pound.
Not particularly a problem for hobby-level drones, as the battery pack weighs that much. Put it in a container that holds the spoon down (like an empty beverage can). Pull the pin, rig it to release and drop on command, and work out the physics on drop distance altitude so the grenade hits and detonates as an airburst, or just as it hits. This is high school physics.

Bonus re: Vegas
The Music festival was contiguous to McCarran International Airport.

For less than what was spent on ordnance for the shooting, you could've dropped a grenade in front of every Strip hotel, at a couple of freeway interchanges, a couple of ER ambulance ramps, and onto planes sitting full of jet fuel and boarding at the airport terminal,
as well as salted half a dozen among an open-air concert crowd, and shut all of Las Vegas down from an RV command post or three, in about five minutes.

We won't even talk about doing the same thing over K-12 schoolyard playgrounds and quads just before classes start, in any major city in America.

And I'm on our side.

For the historically inclined, look how quickly guys observing the first world war from flimsy aircraft started carry pistols, then rifles, then grenades, then machineguns and bombs.

This is just people re-learning the history they've forgotten, or never were taught.

We're a tool-making species, as the prologue in 2001:A Space Odyssey demonstrated.

Everything is a weapon.
A hardware or department store is an arsenal.

So, the leftards want to ban weapons?
Sh'yeah, good luck with that.
(Hey, thanks for my next post, Peter.)

The coming crapstorm (and it is coming, mark my words) is going to end in mushroom clouds, I'm telling you.

B5K said...

I spent years working in Fed LE and left 2 years ago to be a street cop again (I don't play politics well).

One of the things we were doing before I left was using hobby drones to deliver (on one of the ranges at XXXX mil base) det cord, detasheet and other, homemade items...Gaming it like EMRTC showed us.

Under $500 and we came up with a drone that could knock the roof off of a stick-built shoot house, and yes we got REAMED for that escapade. And that one was using things we picked up a Home Depot.

Open air targets and a DJI hobby drone with (deleted) packed with roofing nails, BBs and nuts/washers and we shredded our entire mannequin inventory and pushed stuff deeper into ballistic gelatin than we ever expected it to go. Except for that drone, EVERYTHING was commercially available.

Glen, sorry but your head is deep in the sand buddy.

John Matus said...

In my teens I messed around with RC planes (and Estes rockets), so while I'm not up on how much today's models can carry I always thought RC planes could be used as an assassination device.

Anonymous said...

you could've dropped a grenade in front of

Yes, but you can't sell that attack as solvable by gun control.

Similarly, the Equifax data breach could be addressed by putting the executives and board members in prison for 10 years for criminal negligence, but it will be sold as solvable by banning of cash and the "mark of the beast".

Will said...

"Not particularly a problem for hobby-level drones, as the battery pack weighs that much." How will it fly without the battery for power?

Will said...

Glen's point is that you can't lift a useful weight with the typical hobby drone. You know, the one with the miniature camera as payload.

To lift a useful weaponized load, will require a drone that will need a van or pickup to transport when assembled. Expensive and bulky. Not something you can stick in a knapsack.

Like anything that flies, the trade-offs are cost, size, weight, noise, range, useful load, flying conditions, plus secure radio/laser control range.

Glen Filthie said...


Good grief. Biologicals? Drones? Are you serious? Then there's the limitations of fling it FPV (First Person View). That's all line of sight too - over the counter hobby FPV Tx and Rx components are low wattage, subject to lag issues and have very limited range. And - if you take off the battery and replace it with a grenade the thing won't fly AT ALL. Sheesh!

The only real legitimate threat potential these things pose is their surveillance abilities, and maybe their ability to harass aircraft by fling them into engines as they idle on the tarmac. But then again, if I were to start hassling US military aircraft like that - I would have to be way too close for comfort.

Boys - go BUY one. They're fun to play with, the kids will love them and you will be able to get a good idea of their limitations and what they can actually do. You're frightened of toys.

Peter said...

To all those claiming that modern "hobbyist" drones can't lift enough weight to pose a threat: I'm sorry, but you're not looking at the facts. Such drones HAVE ALREADY BEEN WEAPONIZED by ISIS in Syria and Iraq. This isn't some sort of modern myth: it's a reality. There are videos of it on YouTube, for heaven's sake! It no longer takes a very large drone to do significant, perhaps lethal, damage. Quadcopters have been used: see, for example, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCJDlzayPMk .

Technology has affected, not just drones, but their payloads. Both have grown smaller, lighter and more effective. A drone can kill with a payload of only an ounce or two, provided it gets close enough to the right spot to disable its target. What's more, the power per ounce, or per pound, of modern military explosives has increased significantly over the past few decades, to the point where an ounce of modern composite explosive has almost as much power as a pound of some Vietnam-era equivalents. I had some personal exposure to that in South Africa during the 1980's, and I know things have progressed a lot further since then.

Of course, explosive payloads are by no means the only threat - chemical and biological payloads (both the subject of intensive research and development by terrorists) are potentially much more deadly. Those don't have to be as heavy or as unwieldy as a hand grenade.

Anonymous said...

I've also wondered if and when the Bad Actors will do this. With so many water resevoirs exposed, putting substances in them would cause major disruptions to the users and those who have to maintain them.

Aesop said...

Let's stop playing silly buggers.

I never said "take the battery pack out"; I merely pointed out that current hobby drones lift suitable weights just fine already, and it's not a "payload measured in grams". Especially if you don't need max time of flight, and go to a shorter, lighter battery pack for a one-way mission, capice? Y'know, like a terrorist might do?

And for you jet-fuel geniuses, how much weight savings do you get when you go for a lighter battery, and strip off the "just for looks" plastic shell of a drone like a COTS DJI Phantom series, and couple that with the current payload capacity?

Oh, hey, about a pound, or about the exact weight of a standard M67 frag encased in a cut-out cola can. (full disclosure: I didn't weigh the rivet or wiring strap to secure the soda can.)
For that matter, I can make a spring-fired tube that will fire a 12 ga. buckshot shotgun shell (or several) for substantially less weight than a hobby camera. It may make the drone a single fire sacrificial device, but how many of them would you like to see cresting the edge of a stadium or arena on game day, let alone a schoolyard of kids?
Sure, it violates the NFA, but we all know terrorists would never, ever break the law, right? /sarc

If I wanted to use a small gasoline incendiary, it gets even easier.
Say, how much does a jetliner cost, and how well would one full of people do if I set off a couple/three incendiaries over the wings or cockpit while it was fully fuelled, and stacked up for take off? Just asking for a friend - named Mohamed Imawannajihad, from Bakalakadakka Street.

I leave it to the evil geniuses to figure out the drop or trigger servos, but that takes an afternoon, at most, for a decent MAKER-level hobbyist.
(And that assumes you'd like to retrieve the drone for another sortie, rather than just write the whole thing off, because I'm cheap like that.)
The point is the tech is available, off the shelf, like five years ago.

The miracle is that no one here has done it already, not whether it's possible. It clearly is not only possible, it's relatively easy, particularly when compared to the difficulty of making a drone that any idiot can pilot into a target was in the first place.

So come on, people, more reading comprehension, less derp, sil vous plait. And stop putting words in people's mouths. There's a reason posts are there for you to read; try reading them.

Glen Filthie said...

Sigh. "It's one the news! It's on YouTube!!! It just HAS to be true!!!"

The drone in your vid, Pete, is a DJI Phantom. No, it will not lift enough explosive to frighten me, never mind a platoon of irritable Jar Heads. Look up it's specs. Ye gods. As for those cheap 'spad' disposable RC airplanes? Errrmmmm, no, even the big ones probably won't lift enough explosive to do any real harm, and controlling them with any precision is going to take RC ninja skills that those monkeys clearly don't have. It's no 'miracle' they haven't been used; they have not been used because they aren't practical weapons. Pete, I build these things, and I know what I'm talking about. You, better than anyone, should know how the media sensationalizes things to scare people.

The only credible threat hobby level drones pose is their surveillance capability and that's it. Biologicals? Think about that for a second: even if drones could carry a practical payload - who wants to dump a load of weaponized anthrax a mere couple hundred yards away from themselves? I would want to be at least a couple miles away from the ground zero on that.

Boys - check out Flite Test on YouTube. Those guys build the cheap spad RC planes, they sell the guts and gizmos if you want to build your own drone, and they have a heap of fun doing it! I would bet they would laugh at Pete's vid the same way I did. There is so much BS in that vid I almost wonder if somebody's trying to drive a narrative and why... put it this way: you will find more honesty in a media hit piece on Trump than you will in that vid.

Drones CAN be weaponized by the bad guys but they will cost tens of thousands of dollars at least, probably hundreds of thousands. Bush league muzzle monkeys generally don't deploy weapons like that - gov'ts do.

Criticas said...

Drones are disruptive. They completely change the game, and we don't know how - defense is harder than offense.

Even hobby drones are capable of mayhem. Off the top of my head:

Any fence can be bypassed - crooks are already using them to deliver cell phones and drugs into prisons. What happens when a drone flies a half pound of ball bearings into a jet engine on a plane waiting to take off? Not a loss of the airplane, but millions of dollars in damages. What about a half pound of thermite on top of an aviation storage tank? Again, little loss of life, but the airport is shut down at great economic cost. How about flying a length of copper wire across a high voltage line? You loose a $1000 drone, and shut down power to a city.

Roy said...

"How about flying a length of copper wire across a high voltage line? You loose a $1000 drone, and shut down power to a city."

Assuming your targeting is accurate enough, you get a flash and a loud bang, vaporizing the copper wire, maybe followed by the high tension protection circuit tripping off line. You might lose power to a *section* of the city supplied by those lines but more than likely the load will be taken up by other feeds. Then some poor lineman will have to go out and reset the thing.

Happens all the time during thunderstorms.

Oh, and by the way... "The nut came *loose* causing him to *lose* the..."

Aesop said...

The only credible threat hobby level drones pose is their surveillance capability and that's it. Biologicals? Think about that for a second: even if drones could carry a practical payload - who wants to dump a load of weaponized anthrax a mere couple hundred yards away from themselves? I would want to be at least a couple miles away from the ground zero on that.

I see.
So, f'rinstance, Mohamed Imawannajihad couldn't possibly want to drive his van to Yankee Stadium, or Disneyland, or Times Square on New Years' Eve, ad infinitum, park it, and fly a drone out to dump weaponized anthrax "a couple of hundred yards from himself", onto the crowd, and then drive back home to Bronx or Queens - or Dearborn MI - and want to watch the aftermath from the comfort of his living room?

And you want to play with thermite?

How about dropping that on power transmission towers, distribution transformers, an FAA regional flight control center or five, or an LNG storage tank that'd take out an entire harbor like a nuke going off??

Suppose the Tuesday before Thanksgiving somebody dropped fifty or a hundred such thermite loads at once on storage tanks at every refinery from Galveston to Mobile, simultaneously?

What if they went for dumping anthrax into the A/C system intakes of the 100 biggest malls from L.A. to Boston, two weeks before Christmas?

5000 points from Gryffindor for even suggesting any one of these scenarios wouldn't have them salivating in every madrassa from Marrakesh to Mindanao.

Glen Filthie said...

LOL. Let's play the game, Aesop. Give me a weight. Seriously - how much would an Anthrax "bomb" weigh? Put a number on it. Do the same with thermite - give me a theoretical weight to work with.

I'll supply the drone and if I can lift the weight, we're off to the races. If not, you boys stop scaring yourselves the same way the anti-gun bed - wetters do!

I'm curious now too. Pete - you're a military guy - can you help us? I will post the results over at my blog if you seriously want to game this out.

Ya know what? I'm gonna do it anyways! I'll keep you posted! In the meantime - stop scaring yourselves with BS. It's unmanly...

Aesop said...

Looks like 500 grams is the magic number.
1.1 pounds.

Walk tall, man.