Rezwan Ferdaus pleaded guilty today to attempting to destroy the U.S. Capitol and Pentagon using unmanned drone aircraft packed with high-explosive payloads. He’s expected to receive a 17-year prison sentence at a November 1 hearing.

Last September, FBI agents thwarted a plot by Ferdaus, 26, of Ashland, Massachusetts who attempted to buy C-4 explosives from undercover operatives.

Ferdaus, who holds a physics degree from Northeastern University, planned to arm two remote-controlled aircraft with C-4, then fly them into the Capitol dome and headquarters of the U.S. military.

He has also pled guilty to attempting to provide material support and resources to al-Qaeda to attack U.S. troops overseas.

Though his planes were seized by the FBI, Ferdaus’ replica Navy jets are, like drones, UAVs — unmanned aerial vehicles.

But despite the 2011 attempt, America’s top national security agency’s refusal to engage in the domestic threat posed by unmanned aircraft is disturbing at best. Put bluntly, the Department of Homeland Security is saying it’s not their department. The chairman of DHS’s oversight committee calls this “incomprehensible.”

“Department of Homeland Security officials repeatedly stated the Department does not see... domestic use of drones as part of their mission and has no role in domestic unmanned aerial systems” says Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chairman of DHS’ oversight committee. The DHS declined to testify at hearings Thursday into the threat posed by non-military drones soon to take to the air over the United States by the thousands.

“It should not take a 9/11-style attack by a terrorist organization such as Hezbollah or a lone wolf inspired event to cause DHS to develop guidance addressing the security implications of domestic drones,” said McCaul.

“I am concerned DHS is reverting back to a pre-9/11 mindset, which the 9/11 Commission described as a lack of imagination in identifying threats and protecting the homeland. The Department of Homeland Security DHS leadership is failing to get ahead of the curve on an issue which directly impacts the security of the United States.”

Military-grade drones currently patrol U.S. borders, but Congress recently passed legislation allowing private, unmanned aircraft to take to the skies by 2015. The FAA is currently selecting six sites across the U.S. for testing their deployment.

Drones are expected to be widely used by police, and for other peaceful purposes including crop dusting, monitoring water supplies, and tracking plant and animal migrations. But while privacy advocates point to a lack of safeguards against invasive surveillance of citizens, the same technology can easily be adapted to for hostile purposes. Still, DHS seems steadfast in its unwillingness to monitor such threats. The agency did not immediately return requests for comment.

This is simply another example of how DHS leadership is failing to get ahead of the curve on an issue which directly impacts the security of the United States.”
—Rep. Michael McCaul

Especially worrisome to McCaul is the fact that not a single U.S. government agency is keeping watch over the lethal potential of drones.

“While the FAA is responsible for ensuring these systems fly safely in U.S. airspace, with only two-and-a-half short years until drones begin to dominate the skies in the U.S. homeland, no federal agency is taking the lead to deal with the full implications of using unmanned aerial systems and developing the relevant policies and guidelines for their use” he says.