According to RT News, Director of the FBI Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee today that drones are used by the FBI for domestic purposes, though he qualified that significantly. Mueller

… confirmed … that the FBI owns several unmanned aerial vehicles, but has not adopted any strict policies or guidelines yet to govern the use of the controversial aircraft.

The Wall Street Journal report includes this:

Asked about drones at a Senate hearing, … Mueller said the agency uses them “˜in a very, very minimal way, very seldom.’ …

Asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) about what privacy protections are used in deploying drones and storing the images they collect, Mr. Mueller said their use was narrowly focused on specific incidents.

According to the RT story:

When Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) asked Mueller later in the morning if he’d consider being more open about the FBI’s surveillance methods, the director expressed reluctance to be more transparent. …

“˜There is a price to be paid for that transparency,’ Mueller said. “I certainly think it would be educating our adversaries as to what our capabilities are.’

CBS News includes the fact that Mueller’s comments today are

… the latest in a series of disclosures about the domestic use of drones. In 2010, Orr reported that the Border Patrol is using drones to patrol the Mexican and Canadian borders, along with the Caribbean Sea.

And more recently, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, indicated Attorney General Eric Holder told the committee that both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms have acquired drone technology for use in their law enforcement duties.

These are not “weaponized” drones, but for surveillance only. Mueller was asked if the FBI has

… developed a set of policies and procedures establishing the “˜operational limits’ of its drone use on American soil.

Mueller responded, “˜We are in the initial stages of doing that, and I will tell you that our footprint is very small.’

“˜We have very few, and of limited use,’ he added, “˜and are exploring not only the use, but the necessary guidelines for that use.’

Back in February I wrote Drones: What It Takes to Get Our Attention, with a sort of round-up on earlier drone posts I’ve done. I just think this is a rather important subject. So that the Senate Judiciary Committee is paying at least some attention is a good thing.

The Senate Committee hearing reminded me of an article I read, and wrote about, back in June of last year, That Feeling of Security, Brought to Us by the U.S. House Unmanned Systems Caucus. I checked out that caucus website, and their “mission” hasn’t changed. Neither have the co-chair positions.

(The Caucus) … is co-chaired by Buck McKeon (R-CA), who is also Chair of the Armed Services Committee; and by Henry Cuellar (D-TX), who is also a Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism.

This isn’t unusual for Electeds, of course, to have what might seem to be at least a potential conflict of interest between a caucus role and an official oversight role. But it does make me wonder which role is at work when considering such things as the domestic use of drones.

The mission of the U.S. House Unmanned Systems Caucus is to educate members of Congress and the public on the strategic, tactical, and scientific value of unmanned systems; actively support further development and acquisition of more systems, and to more effectively engage the civilian aviation community on unmanned system use and safety.

Now, this is about a House caucus ““ and as earlier, I still think the mission statement sounds like a marketing plan ““ not the Senate Judiciary Committee that questioned Mueller today. But in general, potentially conflicting roles played by Electeds, and appointees, are always worth giving our attention to. Just as giving our attention to the domestic use of drones seems quite important.

(Robert Mueller via FBI)