The Federal Bureau of Investigation is using drones on United States soil for surveillance purposes, the agency's director, Robert Mueller, told a Senate committee today.
"Our footprint is very small, and we have very few and of limited use, and we're exploring not only the use but also the necessary guidelines for that use," said Mueller , answering a question from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Mueller, who was testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said they were used in a "very, very minimal way and very seldom."
Update at 4:50 p.m. ET. More Details From FBI:
The FBI issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, expanding on Mueller's remarks on Capitol Hill:
"As the Director stated, we have used surveillance aircraft in very limited circumstances to support operations where there was a specific operational need. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) allow us to learn critical information that otherwise would be difficult to obtain without introducing serious risk to law enforcement personnel. As an example, the FBI utilized a UAV at the crisis site during the Jimmy Lee Dykes hostage barricade situation in Alabama earlier this year."
"FBI's UAVs are only utilized to conduct surveillance operations on stationary subjects. In each instance, the FBI must first obtain the approval of the FAA to use the aircraft in a very confined geographic area."
Our original post continues:
"FBI hostage negotiators used surveillance drones during a standoff earlier this year with an Alabama man who had taken a boy hostage inside a makeshift underground bunker.
"Asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) about what privacy protections are used in deploying drones and storing the images they collect, Mr. Mueller said their use was narrowly focused on specific incidents.
" 'It's very seldom used and generally used in a particular incident when you need the capability,' said Mr. Mueller, who said he wasn't sure what becomes of the images recorded by such drones. 'It is very narrowly focused on particularized cases and particularized needs.' "
NPR's Carrie Johnson reminds us that "the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms also have drones."
If you remember, drones became a huge topic of discussion after Rep. Rand Paul led a 13-hour filibuster, where he demanded the Obama administration pledge not to use drones against U.S. citizens on American soil.
Of course, Mueller said the aircraft are being used for surveillance, so this is different.
Attorney General Eric Holder did eventually respond to Paul, saying the president doesn't have the "authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil."