The Federal Bureau of Investigations has used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, at least ten times in the United States, a letter from the agency to Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul revealed on Thursday.
“Since late 2006, the FBI has conducted surveillance using UAV’s in eight criminal cases and two nationals security cases,” the letter reads. A footnote at the end of the sentence noted that in three additional cases, drones were authorized, but “not actually used.”
In addition to their public response, the FBI also sent Paul’s office a different, classified version of their letter containing more details.
The FBI sent the letter to Paul’s office after Paul’s insistent and much-publicized stand against drone use on American citizens both at home and abroad, which dates back to a filibuster Paul conducted on March 6. On that date, Paul, assisted by a bipartisan group of senators, protested the Obama administration’s use of drones by holding up John Brennan’s nomination for CIA director for almost 13 hours.
Since then, Paul has continued to press the administration on the issue through several open letters to FBI Director Robert Mueller. The first letter, dated June 20, came a day after Mueller admitted before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the FBI uses drones to surveil American citizens, and does so without any “operational guidelines” to govern how and when drones should be used.
The deadline Paul’s first letter set for a response deadline for the 11 questions as July 1, which came and went; and on July 9, Paul sent a second letter repeating his request for information, and threatening to filibuster the confirmation hearing for Mueller’s successor, James Comey, if his questions weren’t answered.
“Given that drone surveillance over American skies represents a potentially vast expansion of government surveillance powers without the constitutionally guaranteed protection of a warrant, it is vital the the use of these drones by the FBI be fully examined,” the letter reads, adding that “legitimate questions on important government functions should not be ignored.” Both letters can be found here.
At the end of Paul’s March filibuster, he declared he was “quite happy” with the assurances he received from Attorney General Eric Holder that the president could never use drones to kill American citizens on American soil. This time, however, Paul found the administration’s answers less satisfying.
Paul almost immediately issued a follow-up letter to Mueller, in which he asked for clarification of the FBI’s definition of a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy” — a line beyond which the FBI vowed there drones would not be used without a warrant.
Paul also raised concerns about the internal process for approving drones in past cases, in which the FBI has consulted “legal counsel” instead of pursuing a warrant in a court of law.