January 26, 2015

"A small aerial drone was found on the grounds of the White House but poses no threat...."

The NYT reports.
While drones are commonly thought of in the context of missile-firing, unmanned vehicles used against terrorists, there is a wide variety of devices that would qualify. Many small flying drones are available on the commercial market and are used as toys.

Mr. Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, are on a three-day visit to India, but their daughters, Malia and Sasha, are in Washington....
Yes, this drone might just be some toy, and yes, the President wasn't there, but this shows it can be done.

58 comments:

tim in vermont said...

Looks like skeet shooting goes up in priority for the Secret Service.

PB said...

RC planes and helicopters have been around for a long time. Even quad-copters. Calling them drones is emotional ignorance.

tim in vermont said...

Calling them drones is emotional ignorance

Defending distinctions without a difference with insults seems emotionally ignorant to me. But what do I know? I am sure I am emotionally ignorant too and just don't know it.

Amichel said...

Ya know, I'm surprised no one has ever fired a hobbiest style model rocket at the White House. They are small enough to fit in the back of a van, and large enough to carry a few pounds of payload. Too inaccurate maybe?

Not a new threat exactly, but the miniaturization of control certainly makes any attack potentially more accurate.

Big Mike said...

Could it have carried a couple pounds of C4? If so then it's time to worry. Seriously worry.

Oso Negro said...

But drones are friendly? Aren't they?

Bob Ellison said...

I like to think that the POTUS and his family are secretly hidden away somewhere, maybe with chocolates, deep inside a mountain.

The White House might be a facade.

Known Unknown said...

Maybe it was just coming home to its master?

Amichel said...

I imagine the White House is reinforced against attack, armored reinforced concrete walls, bulletproof windows, etc etc. But then, I'm sure they don't want the extent of their protective measures (or lack thereof) to be known to the public. The recent incident with the man with a knife racing through the front door doesn't build confidence.

Amichel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael K said...

"Defending distinctions without a difference with insults seems emotionally ignorant to me"

No, I don't think so. He is right and the use of "drone" was for a purpose.

Another "micro aggression" I guess.

Larry J said...

tim in vermont said...
Calling them drones is emotional ignorance

Defending distinctions without a difference with insults seems emotionally ignorant to me.


The thing is, there are differences. Drones (or more accurately, remotely piloted vehicles) typically carry real-time video surveillance equipment. Even the small ones like the Raven and Puma used by the US military have other functions such as laser target illumination (different from target designation) and communications relay. They can stay in the air for extended periods (90 minutes for the Raven and 2 hours for the Puma) and do militarily useful tasks.

Most RC planes and helicopters lack real-time surveillance (some will carry a Go Pro camera), long endurance, or comm relay. These are the playthings of serious modelers and pilots. Some of them are amazing, costing thousands of dollars. I've seen videos of RC pilots doing tricks that no human pilot could do in an actual cockpit. It's possible to add real-time surveillance equipment but that requires bandwidth, most likely requiring an amateur radio license.

There has been a bunch of easy to fly remote control aircraft hit the market in the last few years. Some of these are bought by people who don't have the discipline or skills of a good RC pilot. They're the ones getting into trouble.

Bob Boyd said...

It was probably just a toy quadcopter Joe Biden was playing with until he got distracted and wandered off.

The Drill SGT said...

a pound or two of C4 isn't a threat to the WH, however, it would ruin the day of Marine 1 on the WH Helo pad with or without POTUS inside

The Drill SGT said...

Bob Boyd said...
It was probably just a toy quadcopter


Given that it was at night, in crappy weather begs the issue of "hobbyst" though

lemondog said...

Amazon delivery?

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

Another difference between drones and RC planes is that drones can be autonomous.

The RC control emits a signal that can be tracked back to the person flying the plane.

A Drone can be programmed to go from point A to point B (with intermediate waypoints. Think jinking). Once released, they are untrackable.

They can be pretty small so would be hard to shoot down. I don't think you want the SS out on the front lawn shooting shotguns with all the tourists around.

The window in the Oval O is probably pretty strong but would it resist a shaped charge?

John Henry

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

A drone does not require an operator even to launch.

It could be programmed and left on a rooftop or some other hiding place. The attacker could then flee the country.

At a designated time it could launch by itself and follow the preprogrammed flight path.

You would not even have to actually attack the president. Suppose he was giving a speech at some outdoor event. Send 6-8 drones to do a close flyby from various directions. No need for explosives, just spook the bejabbers out of everyone.

John Henry

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

And speaking of drones, Obama was when he said:

"Turns out I'm really good at killing people, Didn't know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine."

John Henry

Bob Boyd said...

Some are asking, "Was this a dry run?"

The next question, of course, becomes Were Bill Belichick's grand kids invited to the WH Easter Egg Hunt this year?

chillblaine said...

This will impel the state apparatus to regulate the sale and use of drones. All will operate on a specific frequency that can be jammed.

Chris said...

"Another difference between drones and RC planes is that drones can be autonomous."

I doubt the popular media make anything like this kind of distinction when they use the word "drone". If they have the choice to use the word "drone", when they might just as accurately describe a model/hobby/toy aircraft... they're going to use the word "drone".

chillblaine said...

But I guess that won't do much good against an autonomous craft that executes a pre-programmed flight plan. We should un-retire the barrage balloons.

David said...

Meanwhile,

The agreement that is being discussed today is not an agreement that would dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons capability, but rather one that could leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state. That is an agreement that could endanger the very existence of the State of Israel.”

“That is why the Prime Minister feels the deepest moral obligation to appear before the Congress to speak about an existential issue facing the one and only Jewish state, ” the Israeli ambassador continued.

“Th[at] is not just the right of the Prime Minister of Israel. It is his most sacred duty — to do whatever he can to prevent Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons that can be aimed at Israel.”

Dermer concluded his remarks by stating, “The Jewish people are a people who have survived all the evil that history has thrown at us. And we will survive the evil that we face today. But we will not do it by bowing our heads and by hoping that the storm will pass. We will do it by standing tall and by confronting the storm with faith and courage.”


--Israel Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer

Hagar said...

I think "drone" originally referred to target aircraft towed by motor aircraft for training anti-aircraft gun personnel.
RAdio- or computer controlled aircraft actually are not "drones" at all, but the word has somehow changed meaning in the last several decades.

Hagar said...

The walls of the White House are original, but nothing inside is. The building was completely gutted and replaced with reinforced concrete during Truman's presidency after Margaret's piano almost fell through the 2nd floor.

Larry J said...

Hagar said...
I think "drone" originally referred to target aircraft towed by motor aircraft for training anti-aircraft gun personnel.
RAdio- or computer controlled aircraft actually are not "drones" at all, but the word has somehow changed meaning in the last several decades.


There were also military reconnaissance drones like the Lockheed D-21 and Ryan Model 147 that were typically air-launched and flew preprogrammed routes. The preprogrammed routes feature was the original definition of a drone as opposed to a remotely piloted vehicle.

TreeJoe said...

First off, I wonder how many commenters joking about trap shooting realize how very effective that could be as an easy deterrent.

I'm at most a hobbyist trap shooter. Those move FAST, at an angle, and at unexpected heights. A GOOD trap shooter can shoot 24/25 pretty easily, albeit they know when it's about to show up. A very good trap shooter will routinely shoot 25/25.

But in addition to that, trap shooting from the walls/roof of the white house towards incoming drones would be non-lethal for tourists even if the shooters were aiming right at them. The effective range of a good trap gun shooting a trap-style load would be about 60 yards, well short of the fence but covering most of the lawn.

Point being: 8-10 secret service agents with trap guns could pretty much annihilate a small army of incoming drones if they had any warning at all it was coming.

The concerning part to me is that any sort of aircraft was "found"....not spotted.

tim in vermont said...

I made a pretty good living ignoring artificially rigid distinctions as a software designer in my career.

You go ahead and think that the two things are completely different and that technology will not evolve blurring the distinction even more.

I remember when the mainframe programmers used to disparage us PC programmers as programming "toys" too.

The point of the original comment is that the WH is faced with a new challenge, whether it is fully formed at this point or not. If we don't want Washington to become a "forbidden city," we are going to have to deal with them before they become full blow threats, which will be sooner rather than later, I think.

How much C4 do you need to pilot near the Marine One helicopter?

tim in vermont said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tim in vermont said...

What if the controlling entity for the RC toy is not a human, but a laptop computer sitting in a parked car? The laptop itself controlled through some untraceable server. How hard would that be for a government to rig up?

If your only claim to protection is lack of imagination, you are right back in pre-911 security mode.

Bryan C said...

" it can be done."

Who thought it couldn't be done? It's a remote-control toy helicopter, flown over a fence into the yard of a giant government building in the middle of the nation's capitol. It's not very complicated.

Short of ringing the White House with automated flack-cannons, there's absolutely nothing that can be done about this.

But you can be sure someone will try, probably by pretending the FCC and FAA have authority over remote-control toys.

Big Mike said...

More information has come in.

The "drone" is a toy quadcopter.

Which, however, is illegal in the district.

Quadcopters do scale up, per this video, into something that could ruin a Secret Serviceman's day.

tim in vermont said...

It was a "two foot quad copter" not some little machine you fly around in your living room on Christmas morning.

But you can be sure someone will try, probably by pretending the FCC and FAA have authority over remote-control toys.

It has been noted that the constitution is not a suicide pact. The govt may certainly assert authority over any radio frequency they want.

tim in vermont said...

"My lack of imagination says your machine gun armed quad copter cannot exist!" - The Ostrich.

MarkW said...

Did the FAA fly it there to try to justify its attempt to assert jurisdiction over anything and everything that flies (potentially including paper airplanes, kites, and birthday balloons):

http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-faa-thinks-it-can-regulate-paper-planes-and-baseballs

tim in vermont said...

Did the FAA fly it there to try to justify its attempt to assert jurisdiction over anything and everything that flies?

Let me guess, also for pot legalization, right?

Anonymous said...

Of course it can be done. The White House isn't under a protective dome, it is under the open air. You could throw a rock onto the White House lawn from public streets if you wanted to.

MarkW said...

"It was a "two foot quad copter" not some little machine you fly around in your living room on Christmas morning."

No, it was a little machine you fly around in your back yard. Probably something like this:

http://www.amazon.com/DJI-Phantom-Quadcopter-Integrated-Camcorder/dp/B00FW78710

It's made of plastic, is about 2 feet wide when you add in the props, weighs about 1KG and has a 300 gram payload. It couldn't begin to carry a machine gun. Although it actually can be flown indoors:

http://vimeo.com/92181240

Even if terrorists figured out how to use drones to carry out attacks -- just how on earth do you think FAA regulations would stop them?

Proposed FAA regulations of 'drones' aren't about safety, they're about the FAA using safety as a pretext for expanding their empire to justify much bigger budgets and more bureaucrats.

DanTheMan said...

"Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the inventor..."

We have been the droners. Soon, we will be the dronees.

tim in vermont said...

Proposed FAA regulations of 'drones' aren't about safety, they're about the FAA using safety as a pretext for expanding their empire to justify much bigger budgets and more bureaucrats.

It is just possible that there are larger issues at hand, and just possible that because this particular drone could not carry a weapon, though half a pound capacity seems like plenty to carry a container of weaponized anthrax, for example.

Denial is not an *actual* defense mechanism, it is a psychological defense mechanism. Can you spot the difference?

The Drill SGT said...

tim in vermont said...
It is just possible that there are larger issues at hand, and just possible that because this particular drone could not carry a weapon, though half a pound capacity seems like plenty to carry a container of weaponized anthrax, for example.


Or a half scale claymore mine. After all, a full up claymore only has 680g of explosive.

Think that a pound of C-4 won't ruin the day of a VH-3 or VH-60? (Marine One)

Walter S. said...

"...this shows it can be done."

Yes, but anyone could have thrown a softball onto the same lawn, maybe from the same starting point. And a softball could carry as dangerous a payload.

This is a threat that somebody needs to be aware of, but we don't all need to get excited about it.

Bryan C said...

"It is just possible that there are larger issues at hand"

Well, anything's possible. If you want to discuss how to actually stop such a thing from happening then that's fine. But don't fool yourself into thinking the control freaks at the FAA have anything useful to contribute to the discussion.

As previously noted, the FAA already banned remote-control helicopters and planes from DC back in 2009, despite a very shaky claim of legal jurisdiction. And despite lots of people pointing out that such a ban would be both stupid and useless. They were correct.

RonF said...

Test flight.

RonF said...

"What if the controlling entity for the RC toy is not a human, but a laptop computer sitting in a parked car? The laptop itself controlled through some untraceable server. How hard would that be for a government to rig up?"

Are you kidding? How hard would it be for a couple of MIT or Cal Tech EE majors with a case of Mountain Dew to rig up?

DanTheMan said...

>>What if the controlling entity for the RC toy is not a human

No need for MIT or Cal Tech, or a laptop.
All you need is an an Arduino plus the autopilot and GPS shields. A little software, and you have a DIY slow speed cruise missile.

Add a DIY ramjet (also off the shelf) and you can have a mini Tomohawk with some serious standoff capability.

DanTheMan said...

For example:
http://www.amazon.com/Phantom-YoYo-ArduPilot-Assembled-Compatible/dp/B00AMGOF7G/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1422306005&sr=8-2&keywords=arduino+autopilot

$200. Everything you need to make a UAV fly just where you want it to.

tim in vermont said...

Gee, I thought if I didn't think of it, it was impossible, and here comes a know-it-all on this thread to prove me wrong. What will happen next?

The point is that this is a real issue that must be dealt with in some manner, or we will see a successful attack on the White House or Congress, or whatever target is chosen.

Maybe having Washington be an open city is no longer feasible, or more likely, that the White House can be considered secure. I don't know, but the question is raised, and whatever the motivations of the FCC and the FAA are, they do not erase the fact that a threat exists. We are at war, whether we like it or not. It may not be a conventional war, or even a cold war, but the rules and definitions of warfare that applied pre-transistor no longer apply.

DanTheMan said...

I am NOT a know it all. There are several things I do not know...

tim in vermont said...

Just being sarcastic DanTheMan, and not at you. ;·)

LL said...

Before the ominous sounding name drone came about, those things were called remote controlled planes.

Edmund said...

@TreeJoe The concerning part to me is that any sort of aircraft was "found"....not spotted.

At night an RC plane or quad copter that used electric power would be hard to spot and very quiet. It would also have a low radar cross section and be hard to spot using radar.

But you can be sure someone will try, probably by pretending the FCC and FAA have authority over remote-control toys.

They do. The FCC controls what frequency bands and power levels RC hobby vehicles can use. The FAA has jurisdiction over them also. Right now, RC vehicles can only be flown for non-commercial hobby use under a specific exemption from the FAA. Some photographers have gotten in trouble for using them at events such as weddings. A local search and rescue team got a cease and desist letter from the FAA since they were using a quadcopter with real-time video link in searches for missing people.

There are FAA flight bans that include RC aircraft in effect for the areas around larger stadiums during sporting events, NASCAR tracks, and all of Washington DC.

If I was the secret service, I'd have a "watch" over the bands used for RC aircraft and jammers in place.

traditionalguy said...

Maybe it was a scheduled Nicorette delivery.

richard mcenroe said...

If they watch over the RC bands you could fox that by transmitting over cellular.

tim in vermont said...

If they watch over the RC bands you could fox that by transmitting over cellular.

True dat. A broadband connection via cellular would be both encrypted, and provide a high bandwidth two way connection plus access to motion sensors, camera, and GPS in the phone itself, phones which are becoming increasingly lightweight.

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

I am missing something here in all this discussion about RC, encrypted signals, laptops in cars etc.

Why would the drone be controlled at all?

Why would it not just be programmed to take off from point A, fly in a jinky path to point B?

There would be no signal to track back to the controller, no need for the controller to be in the vicinity or even in the country, no way to jam the signal.

As for what drones can do autonomously, see this TED talk with drones.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2itwFJCgFQ

John Henry

PuertoRicoSpaceport.com said...

As for "finding" the drone on the lawn after the fact, yeah, that worries me too. Not unusual for the Secret Service.

They found a bullet and broken window 5-6 days after that shooter took a shot at the WH a year or two back.

Or, rather, housekeeping found it.

And now it seems that the drone was being flown by a government employee (not from the WH), in the park, at 3AM when it got out of control.

Curiouser and curiouser.

John Henry