Letters And Testimony


Chinese Drones at the Department of Homeland Security

letters and testimony

Chinese Drones at the Department of Homeland Security

April 21, 2023

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Today, I submitted written testimony to the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Homeland Security. Click here to download a PDF of the testimony.

Chairman Dave Joyce, Ranking Member Henry Cuellar, and Members of the Subcommittee:

My name is Lars Erik Schönander. I am a Policy Technologist at Lincoln Network, a think tank working to bridge the gap between Silicon Valley and D.C. by applying technology and technical talent to governance and policy challenges. Since 2017, the national security community, including the Department of Defense (DoD), has taken action to restrict the use of Chinese drones out of security concerns. But recent information indicates that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), through its component agencies as well as its state and local partners, which receive Homeland Security Grant Program funding, continue to use federal funds to purchase drones that have been banned by other federal agencies. I respectfully request that the Committee include report language in the report accompanying the FY2024 funding bill to prohibit DHS and its component agencies from using federal funds to purchase Chinese drones or related technologies and to require DHS to take steps to improve the management of its drone fleet and those of its state and local partners.

In the FY2024 Budget in Brief for DHS, the FY2023 enacted budget showed that DHS (through Customs and Border Patrol, and the Coast Guard) spent $​​11 million on drone purchases in the FY2023 enacted budget.[1] The U.S.Secret Service also uses drones, and purchased Chinese drones in 2021 and 2022.[2] It is not clear from the Budget in Brief, however, how many drones were purchased by DHS’s component agencies, or what share were commercial (as opposed to military) drones.

The most common source of commercial drones in the United States is the Chinese company DJI, the largest commercial drone manufacturer in the world and a recipient of funding from Chinese state-owned asset managers.[3] In 2021, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, an agency within of the Treasury Department, identified DJI as part of the Chinese military complex, given DJI’s involvement in the Uyghur genocide in Xinjiang.[4] In 2022, DoD added DJI to its “Chinese military companies” list, given DJI’s ties to the People's Liberation Army (PLA).[5] DJI’s ties to the Chinese government, together with the cybersecurity risks posed by its ability to insecurely transmit location data, pose a serious risk. Just last month, researchers discovered how to intercept DJI drones’ radio signals and thereby identify the location of a drone’s operator, which would allow an entity such as the Chinese Communist Party to track the drone.[6]

Several federal departments and agencies have banned DJI drones out of cybersecurity concerns. DoD banned the usage of DJI drones in 2017 out of concerns that DJI could collect location and other critical information from the drones and send that information to the Chinese Communist Party.[7] The Department of the Interior downed its drone fleet in 2020 in response to similar cybersecurity concerns with Chinese drones.[8] Additionally, Texas and Florida banned the usage of DJI drones by their state agencies earlier this year.[9] However, DHS still buys and even indirectly subsidizes the purchase of DJI drones. A contract on, a General Services Administration procurement database, shows that the U.S. Secret Service bought DJI drones in 2022.[10]

State and local public safety agencies also buy DJI drones using grant money from DHS programs. Through Freedom of Information Act requests, I have found that police departments in several states have bought DJI drones through the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant program.[11] The UASI program was created to fund efforts to secure urban areas against terrorism and is part of DHS’s Homeland Security Grant Program. Police departments have also bought Aeroscope, DJI’s drone detection tool, with these funds. Areoscope, like DJI’s drones, has cybersecurity vulnerabilities: according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s national vulnerability database, Aeroscope broadcasts unencrypted information about the drone operator, meaning that entities can easily track the location of drone operators who think their locations are secure.[12]

In the 118th Congress, the Subcommittee should prohibit DHS, its component agencies, and its state and local partners from using federal funds to purchase Chinese drones or related technologies and establish several reporting requirements to improve transparency about the usage of Chinese drones in homeland security. The reporting language regarding DHS should include the following:

  1. Prohibit DHS and its partners from using DHS funds for purchases of drones manufactured in China. While DJI is the most important, other Chinese drone companies, such as Autel or Yunnec, would attempt to take DJI’s place if a ban targeted only DJI. Given the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) 2020 ban on the use of DOJ funds to buy Chinese drones, this type of ban has precedent.
  2. Recommend the Office of the Inspector General for DHS audit the Department and its components’ to determine the total size of DHS’s drone fleet, how many of DHS’s drones are from Chinese manufacturers, and how to replace them with drones manufactured in the U.S. or allied countries.

[1] Department of Homeland Security, “FY 2024 Budget in Brief” (2023),; sum of “Small Unmanned Aircraft System,” line item for “U.S. Customs and Border Patrol,” and “Coast Guard” within the FY 2024 Budget in Brief.

[2] Lachlan Markay, “Scoop: U.S. Government Buying Risky Chinese Drones,” Axios, September, 21, 2021,;, accessed April 3, 2023,

[3] Lukas Schroth, “Drone Market Shares in the USA After China-US Disputes,” Drone Industry Insights, March 2, 2021,; Cate Cadell, “Drone Company DJI Obscured Ties to Chinese State Funding, Documents Show,” Washington Post, February 2, 2022,

[4] “Treasury Identifies Eight Chinese Tech Firms as Part of the Chinese Military-Industrial Complex,” Department of the Treasury, December 16, 2021,

[5] “DOD Releases List of People's Republic of China (PRC) Military Companies in Accordance With Section 1260H of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021,” Department of Defense, October 5, 2022,

[6] Andy Greenberg, “This Hacker Tool Can Pinpoint a DJI Drone Operator’s Exact Location,” Wired, March 2, 2023,

[7] Gary Mortimer, “US Army Calls for Units to Discontinue Use of DJI Equipment,” sUAS News, August 4, 2017,,month%20but%20kept%20under%20wraps.

[8] David Bernhardt, “Temporary Cessation of Non-Emergency Unmanned Aircraft Systems Fleet Operations,” Department of the Interior, January 29, 2020,

[9] “Model Security Plan for Prohobited Technologies,” Texas Department of Information Resources, January 26, 2023,; Seth Kurkowski, “Today Florida’s Chinese drone ban goes into effect, and police agencies are not happy,” DroneDJ, April 5, 2023

[10], accessed April 3, 2023,

[11] Lars Erik Schönander, “The U.S. Government Is Funding Chinese Spy Technology in America’s Backyard,” Tablet, January 29, 2023; “Urban Area Security Initiative,” Federal Emergency Management Agency,

[12] “CVE-2022-29945,” National Vulnerability Database, National Institute of Standards and Technology, last updated May 15, 2022,

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