FBI has used surveillance drones on US soil 10 times

In a letter to Sen. Rand Paul, the FBI admits it used drones for eight criminal cases and twice for national security

A Predator drone operated by U.S. Office of Air and Marine (OAM), taxis towards the tarmac for a surveillance flight near the Mexican border (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

In response to a letter from Sen. Rand Paul (R - Ky.), the Federal Bureau of Investigation admitted to using surveillance drones on U.S. soil a total of 10 times; eight times to help solve criminal cases and twice for "two national security cases." The FBI's letter was made public on Friday.

Paul had written to the FBI on two separate occasions, June 20 and July 9, seeking information regarding its use of drones. His inquires came after Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, said in a congressional hearing on June 19 that the bureau uses drones for surveillance in the U.S. for "limited law enforcement purposes," Reuters reported.

The senator received two letters in response to his query, one classified and one declassified according to U.S. News & World Report, but Paul says the letters were "insufficient." He has vowed to block the confirmation of President Barack Obama's new FBI director until he gets answers he deems sufficient.

In the declassified letter, the FBI said that it used a drone in February in a high-profile case where a five-year-old boy was held hostage in a bunker in Alabama. The letter states that the FBI has only employed unarmed drones in accordance with Fourth Amendment laws.

The FBI broadly described its use of drones for use in search and rescue operations, drug sanctions and fugitive investigations, but declined to elaborate on additional uses, citing national security concerns. The bureau described such cases as "law enforcement sensitive."

Paul has been a vocal critic of the domestic use of surveillance drones, staging a 12-hour filibuster on the Senate floor on March 6 when Attorney General Eric Holder wouldn't rule out the government's use of them on U.S. soil in "extraordinary circumstances," like the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

According to the letter, the FBI must be authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration and have bureau legal counsel sign off on missions before drones can be used domestically. The FBI was authorized to use drones an additional three times but decided not to, according to a footnote in the letter.

The full text of the declassified letter is available below.

Al Jazeera and Wire Services

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