Terror, drugs and the White House: Drones are everywhere

Drone crashes on White House lawn
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Story highlights

  • A drone crashed near the White House at 3 a.m. Monday morning
  • A drone was used to target a suspected terrorist in Yemen, it was reported Monday
  • A drone carrying smuggled drugs crashed last week in Mexico
  • A drone was flown at a Capitol Hill hearing last week

Washington (CNN)Drones are fighting the war on terror, smuggling drugs on the border and crashing near the White House. They're everywhere.

It is ironic that a drone could strike down near the White House -- as one did Monday morning -- since the issue of drone strikes is one that will follow President Barack Obama and mark his legacy.
After the crash near his temporary home, Obama called during an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria for more drone regulation.
    "The drone that landed in the White House you buy in Radio Shack," Obama said.
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    But when historians talk in the future about drones and the Obama White House, they won't be referring to be the two-foot long quad copter that was discovered on the Southeast corner of the White House grounds and sent Washington into a security-related lather early Monday morning, but rather to the unmanned aerial vehicles -- the Pentagon calls them UAVs -- like the one that was confirmed on Monday by the U.S. Government to have delivered its payload in Yemen.
    The strike acknowledged Monday is one of more than 500 that have been launched by the United States since 2011, according to data compiled by The New America Foundation.
    Three officials told CNN's Barbara Starr about the drone strike in Marib, Yemen, which was conducted by the CIA. The agency declined to comment, although Starr reported that it is not believed any major AQAP leaders were targeted. This is the first U.S. drone strike of the year in Yemen and the first since a popular uprising in Yemen has destabilized the government that has so far cooperated with the U.S. In its anti-terror campaign.
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    The New America Foundation has sought to keep a tally of U.S.-led drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. The use of drones peaked in Pakistan in 2010 and in Yemen in 2012, according to their data. It was in 2010 that the Department of Justice lawyers wrote a secret memo for the Obama administration that argued extra-judcial killings of people suspected of being terrorists was justified under U.S. Law, even in the case of U.S. citizens thought to be plotting abroad. That memo -- or two thirds of it that were not redacted -- were released by a federal court last June in the face of a lawsuit by the ACLU.
    Clearly there's a huge difference between the type of drone used by the military to target and kill suspected terrorists and the type of drone used to take video with a GoPro. Somewhere in between is the type of drone, also in the news, drug smugglers are now using to carrying drugs across the Southern border.
    Tijuana police said last week they intercpted a drone carrying six pounds of synthetic drug crystal meth that crashed into a super market parking lot because six pounds, worth about $48,000 according to the DEA, was too much weight for the drone to handle.
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    A spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol said U.S. authorities have not yet encountered a drone as part of the war on drugs.
    But they do use drones of their own to monitor traffic on the Southern border for undocumented crossings.
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    In addition to drug smugglers, legitimate businesses want to use drones too. Farmers are using them. Jeff Bezos wants Amazon to use them, although it's a little unclear how that'll work out.
    Colin Guinn, who is CEO for 3D robotics, testified about research into the commercial use of drones Jan. 21 on Captiol Hill. He did so with a small drone, about the same size as the one that crashed near the White House, hovering next to him. There were snickers when the drone briefly crashed in the hearing room.
    All of this is in the way of saying drones are taking on an increased importance in the U.S. economy and becoming more visible in the nation's airways.
    The Federal Aviation Administration has issued some guidelines restricting where and how users can fly drones, but the industry is largely unregulated as more companies look to buy and integrate the relatively new technology into their business. The FAA had set a September 2015 deadline to roll out a list of drone regulations.
    Obama noted the need for more regulation during his interview with CNN's Zakaria.
    "You know that there are companies like Amazon that are talking about using small drones to deliver packages... There are incredibly useful functions that these drones can play in terms of farmers who are managing crops and conservationists who want to take stock of wildlife." Obama said. "But we don't really have any kind of regulatory structure at all for it."
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