The U.S. Department of Energy is updating a classified security order that will reflect recent intelligence assessments about the threats posed by unmanned aerial systems, or drones, as some federal officials express concerns that terrorists could use drones to harm the United States.
That information is included in a report issued by the DOE Inspector General, or IG, in April.
While developing the report, the IG reviewed controls in place at the Y-12 National Security Complex and Idaho National Laboratory. The IG found that the National Nuclear Security Administration, including Y-12, has been proactive in establishing “limited internal controls” that include observing and reporting unmanned aerial systems, as well as using deadly force if hostile intent is determined.
The IG said drones are becoming increasingly popular, and some unmanned aerial systems that are commercially available and relatively affordable have high-definition cameras, auto pilot global positioning system navigation, and the ability to carry and remotely release payloads.
“The increasing availability and improved capabilities of small UAS (unmanned aerial systems) enhances the potential for use in illicit operations, including surveillance, disruption, and weaponization,” the IG report said. “Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials have expressed concern that terrorists will be using UAS against United States assets in the near future.”
Congress acknowledged the increased risk of drone encounters in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, the IG said, and the legislature authorized DOE to use the same methods as the U.S. Department of Defense to protect against those encounters.
“These methods include seizing control of UAS (unmanned aerial systems), confiscating UAS, and using reasonable force to disable, damage, or destroy UAS,” the IG report said.
As of 2016, DOE Health and Safety did not think that drones were likely to be used in attack on DOE assets, the report said. Under the current DOE order, training scenarios envisioned adversaries using drones for pre-attack surveillance—but not as weapons.
“However, Health and Safety obtained current information that has heightened Health and Safety’s concerns regarding the rapid increase in technology, opportunity, and availability of UAS that may contradict this information,” the IG said. “This is significant because it is essential that effective security controls are in place at Department sites to protect against UAS and, ultimately, to protect the overall security of the Department’s interests.”
The DOE Office of Nuclear Energy has not established UAS internal controls, the IG report said, but Idaho National Laboratory has internal controls similar to those of the NNSA and Y-12.
“While leadership from the Y-12 National Security Complex and Idaho National Laboratory security contractors stated that the protective force will take appropriate actions if UAS encounters occur, security contractor leadership generally will only conduct training and performance testing if the Department issues guidance identifying UAS as an attack platform,” the report said.
The IG report recommended that the DOE associate under secretary for environment, health, safety, and security determine the criticality of the threats posed by drones. The IG also recommended that the associate under secretary ensure that DOE uses the appropriate process to update security controls based on the most recent information about drone capabilities.
DOE management concurred with the recommendation and said Change 1 of Department Order 470.3C, Design Basis Threat, the classified security directive, was being developed and could be complete by September 30. DOE management said the draft revision reflects the recent intelligence assessments about drone threats and proposes policy requirements to address the threats.
According to the IG report, unmanned aerial systems were identified as a concern that would require a constant level of attention when Order 470.3C was being developed. The U.S. intelligence community provided DOE Health and Safety with information about a potential change to the threat posed by drones on October 18, 2017. Health and Safety asked the DOE Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence to analyze this new information, and Health and Safety prepared a proposed change to the DOE order based on the new information. When the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence completes its analysis, Health and Safety will update the proposed change and start the directive modification process, the IG report said.
The IG conducted its inspection between August 2017 and January 2019.
While DOE is working on its plan related to drones, the NNSA, which is part of DOE and maintains the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, among other duties, distributed “Enterprise Counter Unmanned Aerial System Concept of Operations” on June 22, the IG said.
“This document was issued to provide National Nuclear Security Administration sites with implementing guidance for responding to a UAS threat, as well as a framework by which to develop a decision matrix and rules of engagement to support documentation and procedures for the integration and employment of counter-UAS platform,” the report said.
Oak Ridge Today reported in November that the NNSA was deploying systems to counter drones at four sites that house special nuclear materials, including Y-12. Deployed by the Office of Defense Nuclear Security, the systems are designed to mitigate any malicious aerial intruders at NNSA sites. They will have the capability to detect, identify, track, and intercept unsanctioned and suspicious drones, the NNSA said.
At that time, one system had already been deployed at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
About a year earlier, in December 2017, Oak Ridge Today reported that the Federal Aviation Administration and DOE had agreed to restrict drone flights over Y-12, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and five other federal sites. It was the first time the FAA placed specific airspace restrictions for unmanned aircraft, or “drones,” over DOE sites.
See the IG report here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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