Homeland Security Secretary to Visit North Dakota Amid Drone Smuggling Concerns

Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is scheduled to visit the U.S.-Canada border in North Dakota tomorrow amid growing concerns over illegal drone smuggling.

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Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is scheduled to visit the U.S.-Canada border in North Dakota on Thursday to garner a deeper understanding of the security threats posed by drone-centric drug smuggling, according to The Washington Examiner

This trip will revolve around fears regarding the capabilities of unmanned aerial systems and those attempting to nefariously use them to their benefit.

“During this trip, Secretary Nielsen will address the Department’s concerns regarding the threats from small unmanned aerial systems and reiterate that the Department is actively seeking new legal authority from Congress to protect and defend Americans against these types of airborne threats,” said the DHS in a statement. 

In terms of protecting the integrity of national airspace from illegal aerial incursions with drugs as their payloads, we have, in fact, seen these kinds of activities blossom in the past year. While the domestic criminal drone activity has largely been comprised of smuggling contraband into federal prisons and dealing drugs with recreational UAVs, there have been modern border security issues that see drones smuggling methamphetamines into the country, as well.

North Dakota ranks as the highest drone expert state in the country and is home to one of the Trump administration’s UAS Integration Pilot Program test sites. There’s a significant spike in ingenuity regarding UAS operations in the state, with North Dakota State University, for instance, recently developing an herbicide-spraying drone that can cover 33 acres in under an hour. 

While stoking fears of purported criminal activity from outsiders is a surefire way to garner public support and consequent financing, it seems as though the government’s concerns regarding aerial trespassing and drug smuggling are largely rooted in fact, in this case. As of April, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Air and Marine Operations Center in Grand Forks, North Dakota has reported 36 related drone incidents. This is a dramatic increase of 17 reported incidents, during the same period in 2017.

Ultimately, it’s unclear what exactly Secretary Nielsen will learn during this on-site information session, but the focus is certainly clear: to gather as much data as possible in order to develop various strategies to combat the increase in illegal drone incursions from Canada to the United States. Stay tuned, as we’ll report on the findings once they trickle out of Grand Forks.