National Security

Local U.S. Law Enforcement Using Chinese Drones Cited for Espionage Concerns

Rep. Banks blows whistle on state governments helping China spy in the U.S.

A drone from the Chinese company Dà-Jiāng Innovations at the Beijing Photo fair in 2018 / Getty Images

An increasing number of local and state law enforcement authorities are using Chinese-made drones that the federal government warns are Communist Party espionage tools, prompting Congress to petition local governments to end their reliance on the technology.

Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Congress’s China Task Force, is blowing the whistle on his state’s use of drones produced by Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI), which is controlled by the Chinese government and known to service its police state. Dà-Jiāng and other Communist Party drone makers earlier this year donated more than 100 drones to U.S. authorities in 22 states to help them conduct surveillance during the coronavirus pandemic. While the Defense Department and other federal agencies have banned the use of these drones, local governments have failed to do the same.

Banks, in a letter sent last week and obtained Tuesday by the Washington Free Beacon, warned Indiana officials that their use of these Chinese drones could be helping the Communist Party collect sensitive data about Americans and their local governments.

Chinese-made drones are one of many technologies the U.S. government has cracked down on in recent months over concerns the Communist Party is using them to conduct espionage operations in America. All of the data collected by these unmanned vehicles would be accessible to the Chinese government due to its strict oversight of the tech sector. Congressional and Trump administration officials have issued multiple warnings about the risks associated with Chinese technology, including popular social media applications such as TikTok, which could soon find itself banned in America due to China’s abuse of users’ private information.

"The federal government has become wise to the Chinese Communist Party’s infiltration, but state and local governments have not uniformly become as vigilant," Banks told the Free Beacon.

In his letter, addressed to Indiana governor Eric Holcomb (R.), Banks outlines the many concerns surrounding DJI and other Chinese drone makers. Holcomb was labeled by a Chinese think tank as a "friendly" U.S. official last year after he led a trade mission to the country.

Banks is pressuring Holcomb to implement a statewide executive order "prohibiting DJI drones and other drone companies with significant ties to the Chinese Communist Party from being used in support of state or local government operations," according to the letter.

China is seeking increased contact with U.S. state and local officials in a bid to bolster its standing in America. This effort has become all the more important as the Trump administration cracks down on the federal government’s contacts with Beijing as a result of the coronavirus and subsequent Communist Party disinformation campaign.

As a member of the China Task Force in Congress, Banks is "regularly briefed on the grave dangers of using drones and other surveillance technologies that may be sharing data with the Chinese Communist Party," the letter states.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also warned the nation’s governors of this danger during a February meeting with the National Governors Association.