Share this article:
It doesn't seem that long ago that drones were regarded as being incredibly high-tech, and prohibitively expensive. That's no longer the case.
Hobbyists race drones against one another through obstacle courses, companies are developing drone delivery services, we're using them to collect geographical data. Yesterday's shiny new gadget is today's affordable toy.
Drones are the sort of technology that we talk about "falling into the wrong hands," and that is exactly what FBI Direct Christopher Wray is warning Congress.
"I think we do know that terrorist organizations have an interest in using drones," Wray testified in a hearing for the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
"We've seen that overseas already with growing frequency. I think the expectation is that it's coming here imminently. I think they are relatively easy to acquire, relatively easy to operate, and quite difficult to disrupt and monitor," Wray added.
Nicholas Rasmussen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center echoed Wray's concerns.
"Two years ago this was not a problem. A year ago it was an emerging problem. Now it's a real problem. So we're quickly trying to up our game," Rasmussen testified during the hearing.
He said that counterterrorism agencies have ramped up efforts to bring together intelligence professionals to help understand the tactics and techniques that drone-using terrorist groups might employ.
"That could be dropping small explosives the size of a grenade. It could be dispersal of toxins, potentially," Rasmussen said.
Some government agencies are already preparing for this eventuality.
Lat year in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a mock attack was conducted during the Little League World Series in order to gain some valuable intel on how a terrorist attack might play out.
The drill used two drones to simulate a chemical attack, seeing fans rushing to the exits in order to test how civilians and emergency responders alike might handle such an attack.
A report coming from the Oxford Research Group's Remote Control Project titled The Hostile Use of Drones by Non-State Actors Against British Targets suggests that drones will be used as a "simple, affordable" airborne means of delivering explosives on targets.
ISIS is not the only potential player as other smaller terrorist organizations or even individuals with a particular ideology or message they want to publicize look to launch their own drones.
Other recent drone flights along these lines include an anti-nuclear activist in Japan landing a drone containing radioactive sand on the prime minister's office, an Albanian activist disrupting a football match against Serbia by flying the Albanian flag over the game, and Hezbollah violating Israeli airspace with drones.
Although the explosives carried by a single consumer-grade drone might not seem capable of doing that much damage, drones have been shown to be able to fly in formation, with one pilot leading a fleet of dozens, even hundreds of networked drones.
In theory, a single person could launch an attack as destructive as a US missile strike.
In all likelihood, terrorist groups have already been hard at work training their foot soldiers in the operation of drones, how and where to obtain them, how to equip them for hostile acts, and how to pilot them as such to limit the risk of detection before the attack can be successfully completed.
In short: the first major terrorist attack utilizing drones is probably already in the development stages.