“This is the new reality,” CNN’s Chris Cuomo reported earlier this morning after the White House confirmed that the Secret Service had found a drone on the grounds overnight. “Maybe the wonder,” Michelle Kosinski remarked, “is that this hasn’t happened before.” According to their sources, the lights outside the residence came on abruptly at 3:15 am, although it’s not clear that this is when the drone actually landed:
The U.S. Secret Service is investigating a “device,” described as a small drone, found on the grounds of the White House, a White House official said Monday, and Press Secretary Josh Earnest said early indications are that the device does not pose an ongoing threat.
CBS reports that emergency responders came to the White House after the discovery, and that access was even more restricted at the moment, as one would assume:
The Secret Service was investigating, he said. The agency had no immediate comment on what it found.
Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, are on a three-day visit to India, with a stop planned in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday before they return to Washington.
Earnest was responding to a question about a report that a small drone had been found.
The White House was dark during Monday’s pre-dawn hours and emergency vehicles with lights flashing were clustered near the southeast entrance to the mansion. A security perimeter had been set up around the White House to restrict access.
WPTV had a look at the grounds, but not much more information:
Let’s assume for the moment that this drone discovered overnight poses no acute threat, as Earnest and other anonymous sources are telling media outlets. What motives did the drone operator have in flying it into the White House? It could have been an accident — but that wouldn’t be the case unless it landed there long before it was discovered. No mere hobbyist would be flying drones in the middle of the night in Washington DC, especially not around the White House and in winter. It could be an errant law-enforcement drone, but it would have to be remarkably errant, as the area around the White House is a no-fly zone — and it would again raise the question as to why the drone was up in the middle of the night with a major storm approaching. And in the latter case, one would think that the law enforcement agency would have coordinated with the Secret Service on a lost drone and come to do the recovery themselves with minimal publicity.
Absent those two explanations, we’re either looking at a malicious prankster or a probe of some sort by someone even more malicious. Kosinski is correct that it’s a bit of a marvel that we haven’t seen anyone try the latter until now. Before the recent and spectacular failures by the Secret Service at the White House, the veneer of invincibility might have provided enough disincentive to prevent such probes. Now, though, malefactors might be convinced that they can conduct an operation against the White House and are testing Secret Service defenses to find weak spots.
Let’s hope it’s nothing more than a malicious prankster, but let’s also hope that the Secret Service can find these drones in the future before they reach the grounds of the White House. The next time, that might be too late.
Update: As some commenters suspected, the drone is reportedly a “quad copter” variety. The incident did take place just after 3 AM:
The device was “flying at a very low altitude” and “ultimately crash[ed] on the southeast side of the complex,” agency spokesman Brian Leary said.
A member of the Secret Service Uniformed Division witnessed the incident at about 3:08 a.m., launching “an immediate alert and lockdown of the complex until the device was examined and cleared.”
Leary said that “an investigation is underway to determine the origin of this commercially available device, motive, and to identify suspects.”
That seems like an unusual time for a hobbyist to be playing with one outside, but not a bad time to see whether the Secret Service could spot and stop one coming over the fence.