Where Russia has been an overt villain on the world’s stage, seeming to revel in the idea that they’ll use whatever horrid tactics they can to get ahead in the global order, China has taken their commensurately poor behavior largely underground, to a subversive and worrisome level.
China would much rather commit their uncouth acts in private, it seems, from Beijing’s near-constant theft of western intellectual property, to their clandestine coercion campaigns against global pop culture in which they leverage their enormous economy to force censorship in the international media ecosystem.
Now, in a rather stark example of China’s dastardly dealings, there are fears on Capitol Hill that drones from the far east are spying on US lawmakers.
Hundreds of Chinese-manufactured drones have been detected in restricted airspace over Washington, D.C., in recent months, a trend that national security agencies fear could become a new means for foreign espionage.
The recreational drones made by Chinese company DJI, which are designed with “geofencing” restrictions to keep them out of sensitive locations, are being manipulated by users with simple workarounds to fly over no-go zones around the nation’s capital.
Federal officials and drone industry experts have delivered classified briefings to the Senate Homeland Security, Commerce and Intelligence committees on the development, three people privy to the meetings said. A spokesperson for the Intelligence Committee — which has been kept closely apprised of the counterintelligence risks — declined to comment on the briefings. The other two committees did not respond.
Just how dangerous is the situation?
“This is part of a trend of commercial drones for potentially nefarious reasons,” said Rachel Stohl, vice president of research programs at the Stimson Center think tank who closely tracks the global drone market. “We’re seeing in conflict zones, in other theaters, the reliance and use of commercial drones.”
“These may be just innocent data collection — or really just looking around, seeing what’s happening — and not in a systemized way,” she added. “But the potential, of course, is that eventually they could be more dangerous.”
The warning comes just days after numerous concerns have resurfaced regarding China-owned social media app TikTok, that not only harvests a great deal of data on its American user base, but that also appears to be using a separate algorithm for American children designed to groom them with a vastly different and more degrading feed than in other nations.