Last winter, on the outskirts of a large U.S. city, an FBI hostage rescue team set up an elevated observation post to assess an unfolding situation. Soon they heard the buzz of small drones — and then the tiny aircraft were all around them, swooping past in a series of “high-speed low passes at the agents in the observation post to flush them,” the head of the agency’s operational technology law unit told attendees of the AUVSI Xponential conference here. Result: “We were then blind,” said Joe Mazel, meaning the group lost situational awareness of the target. “It definitely presented some challenges.”
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Mazel said counter surveillance of law enforcement agents is the fastest-growing way that organized criminals are using drones.
Some criminal organizations have begun to use drones as part of witness intimidation schemes: they continuously surveil police departments and precincts in order to see “who is going in and out of the facility and who might be co-operating with police,” he said.
Drones are also playing a greater role in robberies and the like. Beyond the well-documented incidence of house break-ins, criminal crews are using them to observe bigger target facilities, spot security gaps, and determine patterns of life: where the security guards go and when.