FBI finally releases some (heavily-redacted) drone documents

Began investigating UAVs in 1995, won’t reveal how many in fleet

Written by Shawn Musgrave

For more than a year, MuckRock has tried to obtain documents detailing the FBI’s deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles. Now that the Bureau has lost a FOIA suit brought by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), we have a better idea of what to ask for.

See a rough timeline of the FBI’s use of drones over at Motherboard, where we’ve done an initial hash of this first document cache released last week.

CREW filed its FOIA request in late June, seeking documents regarding policies, acquisition, training and funding of the FBI’s UAV program. It filed suit in the U.S. District Court in D.C. in late July, and the judge found in their favor on October 30, ordering the FBI to begin releasing documents on a rolling basis. The FBI’s first release of 431 documents was released on November 27, all of which CREW has put online in full.

CREW’s request is very similar to the FOIA MuckRock submitted as part of the first round of the Drone Census in 2012. The FBI initially denied having any responsive documents, despite widespread knowledge that its agents had at least begun researching the technology. After reviewing the documents released to CREW, we’ve asked to aggregate our request with theirs.

While heavily redacted, the documents contain a number of leads for further FOIA investigation. In particular, the documents refer to a number of standard operating procedures and regulations the FBI applies to UAV operations. They also indicate internal reviews conducted by the FBI of the Bureau’s statutory authority to deploy drones.

We will continue to review this first release and further documents released by the FBI on its drone deployments. We are also working with CREW to appeal the heavy redaction of many details already in the public record.

Watch the project pages at Motherboard and MuckRock for further on domestic drones in use across the country.

Read the UAV presentation embedded below, or on the request page.