The FBI's Drone Pilot Team is Just Two Blokes

By Kate Knibbs on at

The US Justice Department inspector general's recent audit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) drone programme revealed something surprising: the FBI drone pilot team is literally just two people sitting in a room.

Yes, the FBI's multi-million-dollar unmanned aircraft systems programme is helmed by fewer people than there are in the band One Direction, exactly as many people as there were in the great musical duo Sonny and Cher, and many many fewer people than are in the patchouli collective Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros:

Moreover, at the time of our review, a single team of two pilots operated all FBI UAS. We believe these circumstances could limit the FBI's ability to deploy UAS to distant locations quickly or to multiple locations simultaneously.

That's a pretty big limiting factor. Unless these pilots never need to sleep and are the greatest multitaskers in the goddamn world, that's going to keep the FBI's drone game weak.

The FBI has only recorded drone use for 13 investigations between 2006 and 2013, so it's not like those two pilots are overworked. Considering the FBI spent $3 million on drones during that time period, you'd think it'd be more eager to use them.

Probably at least partially due to its measly pilot numbers, the FBI received assistance from non-DOJ drones during its investigations. But it did a horrible job at record-keeping about whose drones did what, so the inspector general primarily had to rely on anecdotal evidence about those flights:

We found that few cases had corroborating records in the field specifically indicating UAS had been deployed. We could confirm DHS UAS use in our sampled flights mainly through the recollections of individuals involved in the cases supported.

The inspector general recommended, unsurprisingly, that the FBI start keeping better records regarding its drone collaborations. It also recommended a systemic approach to a training program, but there's no word yet on whether the two drone pilots will be getting more co-workers in the near future. [Muckrock]

Image via Getty