(U//FOUO) DHS-FBI Bulletin: Radio Controlled Model Aircraft as Possible IED Delivery Platforms

This is the text-only version of a FBI-DHS Joint Intelligence Bulletin from May 2008.  A PDF version is not available at this time.


Intelligence Bulletin No. 294
Joint FBI-DHS Bulletin

(U//FOUO) Radio Controlled Model Aircraft as Possible Improvised Explosive Device Delivery Platforms

14 May 2008

(U) Handling Notice: Recipients are reminded that joint FBI and DHS intelligence bulletins contain sensitive terrorism and counterterrorism information meant for use primarily within the law enforcement and homeland security communities. Such bulletins shall not be released in either written or oral form to the media, the general public, or other personnel who do not have a valid need-to-know without prior approval from an authorized FBI or DHS official.

(U) The Interagency Threat Assessment and Coordination Group (ITACG) reviewed and/or commented on this product from the perspective of our non-federal partners.

(U//FOUO) This intelligence bulletin addresses the terrorism (TERR) topic of the NIPF and responds to FBI intelligence requirements: IT-II.A.1,C.3. & III.C.2 and FBI Terrorism Production Topic 8, Tactic and Techniques.

(U) Scope

(U//FOUO) FBI and DHS are providing this assessment for general awareness of the potential threat posed by terrorists using radio-controlled model aircraft as an improvised explosive device delivery platform.

(U) Key Findings

  • (U//FOUO) Terrorist organizations have demonstrated continued interest in using radio-controlled model aircraft (RCMA) equipped with explosives to conduct attacks.
  • (U//FOUO) The toy and hobby industries provide an array of inexpensive RCMA that terrorists could adapt for use in attacks.
  • (U//FOUO) FBI and DHS have no current, credible intelligence indicating terrorist intent to use this delivery tactic in the Homeland.

(U) Terrorist Use of Radio-Controlled Model Aircraft

(U//FOUO) RCMA are readily available and inexpensive platforms that terrorists could modify for use in attacks by adding explosive payloads.

  • (U//FOUO) In mid-2005, US media reported that a Hizballah fighter apparently tried, but failed, to build a rudimentary RCMA packed with explosives.
  • (U//FOUO) During an August 2002 raid on a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) drug-processing facility, Colombian Government forces recovered several RCMA that the rebels intended to equip with explosives. The rebels already had outfitted one RCMA with a one-kilogram payload of plastic explosives.

(U) Radio-Controlled Model Aircraft Systems Readily Available

(U//FOUO) RCMA systems are readily available from commercial sources in fixed and rotary wing models.

Purchasers can obtain kits from toy and hobby shops and via the Internet in configurations that require varying levels of skill to assemble and operate. In most cases, RCMA can remain aloft for about 30 minutes with the operator required to maintain a constant line of site, which limits the operating range. More sophisticated RCMA can overcome this range limitation by using onboard video cameras or global positioning systems (GPSs).

(U) Implications for Infrastructure Sectors

(U//FOUO) The FBI and DHS assess that terrorists could use explosives-laden RCMA singly or in groups to circumvent ground-based defenses at targeted infrastructure to damage or destroy exposed critical components. Terrorists also could use RCMA to attack and sow panic at large gatherings of people.

(U) Outlook

(U//FOUO) The FBI and DHS assess that continued technological advancements in wireless video, GPS-based autonomous guidance, and miniaturization of electronics and control systems will increase the feasibility of adapting RCMA for use as terrorist weapons.

(U) Potential Indicators of Malicious Radio-Controlled Model Aircraft Systems Intent

(U//FOUO) The ability to detect terrorist plans to use an RCMA as an airborne IED is limited by the difficulty in distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate use of these devices. Possible indicators could include:

  • (U//FOUO) An individual’s focus on weight carrying capability of an aircraft at point of purchase.
  • (U//FOUO) A beginner hobbyist’s pursuit of advanced capabilities such as autonomous flight methods.
  • (U//FOUO) Pursuit of techniques to increase range and flight time.
  • (U//FOUO) RCMA interest coincident with indicators of homemade explosives and improvised explosive device production.

(U) Reporting Notice

(U) Recipients should immediately report suspicious or criminal activities potentially related to terrorism to their local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and the DHS National Operations Center (NOC). FBI regional phone numbers can be found at www.fbi.gov/contact/fo/fo.htm. The NOC can be reached via telephone at 202-282-8101 or by e-mail at HSCenter@dhs.gov.

(U) Administrative Note: Law Enforcement Response

(U//FOUO) Information contained in this intelligence bulletin is for official use only. No portion of this bulletin should be released to the media, the general public, or over nonsecure Internet servers. Release of this material could adversely affect or jeopardize investigative activities. Specific comments or suggestions about the content or format of this bulletin can be provided to tau@leo.gov.

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