Wednesday, October 20, 2021

‘Pretty alarming’: Biden Administration Ignored Pentagon Concerns with Chinese Drone Purchase

AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Republicans say drone purchases is evidence that president is weak on China
The Biden administration ignored an explicit warning from the Pentagon about “cybersecurity concerns” tied to Chinese-made drones and drone parts, proceeding with the purchase of such materials from a top Chinese company that the Trump administration blacklisted for national security reasons.
A review of internal government procurement documents by The Washington Times found that the Secret Service went ahead with buying eight commercial surveillance drones manufactured by the Chinese drone-making giant Da Jiang Innovations (DJI) after the Pentagon issued its warning in July.
The Secret Service has declined to comment on the purchases, but the contract has triggered mounting scrutiny from Republican lawmakers over the extent to which the agency has run afoul of restrictions on U.S. government use of equipment from certain Chinese companies — even if that equipment is available for purchase by U.S. citizens via e-commerce companies such as Amazon.
It also has triggered concern among government watchdogs. Purchasing blacklisted technology from China is a “potential weak point” for any agency of the federal government, said Donald Maye, head of operations at the video surveillance research company IPVM, which obtained the government procurement documents showing the Secret Service paid $12,792 for the DJI drones on July 26.
The transaction, which the Department of Homeland Security approved, was made three days after the Pentagon circulated a statement specifically warning that DJI drones “pose potential threats to national security” and stressing that the U.S. military has banned the purchases and use of such materials since 2018.
“The fact that DoD was forthcoming in July to reaffirm that they posed a national security threat, I think, was quite telling, which is why I found it pretty alarming that the United States Secret Service had purchased several drones from DJI,” Mr. Maye said in an interview on Tuesday.
When contacted by The Times on Tuesday, the Secret Service declined to comment on how it uses the DJI drones or why it did not heed the Defense Department’s warning about the Chinese company. Justine M. Whelan, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in a statement via email that “in order to maintain operational security, the U.S. Secret Service does not discuss operational means and methods.”
The Secret Service has not been alone in seeking to acquire blacklisted Chinese surveillance drones over the past year. Federal procurement documents show the FBI sought DJI drones about the same time the Secret Service made its purchases.
LINK: Urgent warning China may be SPYING on
Americans using police drones as devices labeled
‘national security threat’
The bureau initially circulated a justification document in April that said its evidence response team wanted to acquire 19 DJI drones “in order to train new Remote Pilots.” FBI officials subsequently sent DJI brand retailers a request for quotation, or RFQ, to buy the equipment.
The bureau then made a $59,671 purchase from Adorama Inc., which sells DJI products via the internet, according to a purchase order published on a federal government website. The order, which predated the Pentagon warning about DJI by roughly a week, does not specifically indicate what the FBI purchased.
An FBI official told The Times on the condition of anonymity Tuesday that the bureau “cannot comment on specific operational equipment procured by the FBI, but can assure the public that the FBI, as a general matter, takes all necessary measures to ensure the security and safety of its operations.”
Speculation about why the agencies have purchased DJI products in the Biden era despite Trump administration bans and restrictions has been swirling since Axios first reported the procurements in September. DJI’s Shenzhen, China-based parent dominates the world market for commercial drones, with an estimated 70% of the market.
Engaged in a fierce trade war with China, the Trump administration took on individual Chinese companies that the Biden administration has not always kept up. The Justice Department recently essentially settled a case against a top executive for technology giant Huawei who was detained for years in Canada fighting a U.S. extradition order. A proposal under Mr. Trump to force popular Chinese app TikTok to shut down or sell its U.S. operations has languished under Mr. Biden.
Congressional concerns --->READ MORE HERE
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