FBI's Mueller Admits Use of Drones in Domestic Surveillance

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
FBI's Mueller Admits Use of Drones in Domestic Surveillance

During testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted that the bureau has been using drones in domestic surveillance.

At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, FBI Director Robert Mueller (shown in photo) testified that his agency has used drones to monitor American citizens within the United States. He qualified the admission by saying the unmanned aerial vehicles have been used in only a “very, very, minimal way.”

During his testimony it seemed Mueller was almost coining words in order to dramatically downplay the use of drones in the FBI’s domestic surveillance.

“And I will tell you that our footprint is very small. We have very few and of limited use and we’re exploring not only the use but also the necessary guidelines for that use,” he testified.

This is the first time that the FBI has admitted that it uses drones to keep an eye on citizens. The key word in that last sentence being “admitted.”

“It’s very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident when you need the capability,” Mueller said. “It is very narrowly focused on particularized cases and particularized needs.”

Some of those "particularized needs" were described in further detail by FBI spokesman Paul Bresson.

In his testimony, Bresson said that the bureau used a drone to support local law enforcement during the standoff and hostage situation in Alabama in January of this year.

As Bresson described the deployment, the drone was used then in a way typical of the “very limited circumstances” when the FBI can use them to support a “specific operational need.” The drones, he added, “allow us to learn critical information that otherwise would be difficult to obtain without introducing serious risk to law enforcement personnel.”

Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) compared the FBI’s use of drones to the recent revelations of wholesale, dragnet telephone and Internet snooping by the National Security Agency (NSA). Feinstein’s comparison, however, was not what civil libertarians and constitutionalists wanted to hear.

“If people are concerned about privacy, I think the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the drone … and the very few regulations that are on it today and the booming industry of commercial drones,” Feinstein said.

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Photo of FBI Director Robert Mueller: AP Images

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