FBI says PA electricity station likely ‘target’ of drone incident

FBI drone electricity

Forget sophisticated ransomware attacks that have shut down businesses, administrations, pipelines, and utilities in recent months. Now the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) is saying a drone that crashed near a Pennsylvania power facility last year was probably on a kamikaze mission to cut electricity supplies.

According to media reports, an internal FBI memo describes the drone that crashed near the unidentified electricity substation in July, 2020 as the first case of a “modified unmanned aircraft system likely being used in the United States to specifically target energy infrastructure.” The assessment, based on reviews of incidents involving UAVs back to 2017, was first obtained by ABC and CNN. 

The drone went down on the roof of a nearby building in the wider electricity facility. It was described in the memo as having been modified for what the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are viewing as a likely act of intended sabotage.

The document said the drone “appeared to be heavily worn, indicating it was flown previously and was modified for this single flight.” The still unknown operator of the craft, the memo notes, is said to have effected those changes to provoke a “short circuit to cause damage to transformers or distribution lines, based on the design and recovery location.” 

A Southern California ABC affiliate station has published photos linked to the incident. An aerial shot of the area identifies the electricity substation, as well as the roof of an adjacent building marked as the drone’s recovery location. 

A separate photo features the UAV trailing a pair of tethers attached to both ends of a U-shaped “copper wire.”

Amid the many threats – both foreign and domestic ­­– to the security of the US, its companies, and strategic infrastructure, the FBI memo says the agency is increasingly wary of the ways easily obtainable and swiftly multiplying UAVs might be used to cause trouble from the skies.

“[W]e expect illicit [drone] activity to increase over energy sector and other critical infrastructure facilities as use of these systems in the United States continues to expand,” CNN quotes the bulletin saying.

As always, however, combatting such risks must be carefully weighed against the infrequent, albeit extreme nature of the threats they pose, and avoid preventive measuring becoming as harmful as the potential menaces. Those can range from over-reaction to stupid yet largely innocuous one-off drone stunts, to entire governments whipping up mass hysteriaabout supposedly escalating probability drone attacks for their own political and nationalist objectives.

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