Sta­di­ums see drones as ma­jor league threat

Teams want Congress to al­low law en­force­ment to dis­able the flights

The Washington Post Sunday - - NEWS - BY MICHAEL LARIS michael.laris@wash­

On the Sun­day after Thanks­giv­ing, Sacra­mento res­i­dent Tracy Mapes drove to Santa Clara, flew a drone over Levi’s Sta­dium and dropped a pay­load of leaflets es­pous­ing his con­spir­acy the­o­ries over the San Fran­cisco 49ers-Seat­tle Sea­hawks game.

He then headed across the Bay to the Oak­land Raiders game in­tent on do­ing the same.

A year ago this month, a San Diego bar­tender crashed his drone into a fan at the Padres’ Petco Park.

While Mapes was later ar­rested and the bar­tender was fined, team se­cu­rity and lo­cal po­lice were un­able to stop the flights — whether with high-tech jam­mers or other means.

“Fed­eral law pro­hibits lo­cal law en­force­ment from dis­arm­ing or dis­abling drones, even if they are in re­stricted airspace,” said Na­tional Foot­ball League Se­nior Vice Pres­i­dent Jo­ce­lyn Moore. “This loop­hole in fed­eral law puts the safety and se­cu­rity of mil­lions of sports fans and event­go­ers at risk.”

The same pro­hi­bi­tions also ap­ply to the FBI, De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and most other fed­eral agen­cies.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Wed­nes­day tapped 10 pi­lot projects, from mosquito con­trol in Florida to food de­liv­ery in Cal­i­for­nia, that it hopes will of­fer lessons for how to sharply ex­pand drone use na­tion­wide. But ma­jor league teams are in­creas­ingly anx­ious about the more than 1 mil­lion drones that gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials es­ti­mate are al­ready in use. They are ask­ing Congress to give lo­cal law en­force­ment per­mis­sion to seize or reroute drones fly­ing over sta­di­ums. And they are try­ing to get in a po­si­tion to pro­tect them­selves.

The fam­i­lies that own the New York Mets have in­vested in a Sil­i­con Val­ley firm, Airspace, that uses ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence-driven drones that can find and cap­ture other drones. Farzam Kamel, a part­ner at Ster­ling VC, an in­vest­ment arm of the Wilpon and Katz fam­i­lies, said they are work­ing to ad­dress the “very rare but dev­as­tat­ing threat that can come.”

“Knock on wood that hasn’t re­ally hap­pened in our mar­ket or in the U.S. But it would be fool­ish to think it won’t or it can’t,” Kamel said.

Citi Field, home of the Mets, is a good place to demon­strate the tech­nol­ogy, Kamel said, given its com­plex en­vi­ron­ment. It’s near LaGuardia Air­port, so team of­fi­cials must work closely with the Port Author­ity of New York and New Jersey, along with the Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the New York Po­lice De­part­ment.

“So do we wait un­til some­thing dev­as­tat­ing hap­pens be­fore we get re­al­is­tic about it? Or are we prac­ti­cal and plan ac­cord­ingly now, so that we can avoid that out­come?” Kamel asked.

The Padres asked en­gi­neers from Airspace to re-cre­ate the bar­tender’s ill-fated drone flight over their sta­dium. Ex­ec­u­tives say they were able to de­tect the ap­proach­ing drone from afar and nab the in­truder midair with a Kevlar net.

“Our kids are go­ing to be in those sta­di­ums,” Airspace chief ex­ec­u­tive Jaz Banga said.

Team of­fi­cials are im­pa­tient, say­ing the prob­lem has been clear for years.

“There’s tech­nol­ogy out there that we can use, and we do use,” said Cathy L. Lanier, the NFL’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of se­cu­rity, in­clud­ing tools to de­tect when drones are fly­ing nearby. “But the tech­nol­ogy we re­ally need is not yet le­gal to use.”

The De­fense De­part­ment was freed over the past two years, in cer­tain cases, from pro­hi­bi­tions against in­ter­cept­ing elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tions and “sab­o­tag­ing” air­craft to ad­dress drone threats.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed giv­ing the de­part­ments of Home­land Se­cu­rity and Jus­tice sim­i­lar pow­ers.

But Lanier, the for­mer D.C. po­lice chief, said that pro­posal “doesn’t help us, be­cause I don’t think I’m go­ing to get a Se­cret Ser­vice or DHS agent to 256 games a year” to de­fend NFL venues against drones. The FAA im­poses tem­po­rary flight re­stric­tions near sta­di­ums dur­ing games, but they are rou­tinely ig­nored.

Lanier said the in­ci­dent at the 49ers game was just the lat­est re­minder of the risk. “There are a lot of other things that could have been de­liv­ered that way that could have been a lot worse.”

Still, al­low­ing wide­spread use of counter-drone tech­nolo­gies comes with its own set of is­sues.

Last year, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion sought counter-drone pow­ers for nu­mer­ous fed­eral agen­cies, but the re­quest was re­jected based on bi­par­ti­san con­cerns in Congress that it was too broad. Some le­gal schol­ars say al­low­ing gov­ern­ment agen­cies to in­ter­cept com­mu­ni­ca­tions re­lated to drones could have con­flicts with civil lib­er­ties.

The FAA fiercely guards its con­trol of U.S. airspace, and of­fi­cials there say such con­sis­tency con­trib­utes to the na­tion’s stel­lar safety record. Al­low­ing air­craft — in this case, drones — to be in­ter­rupted raises safety is­sues, some avi­a­tion ex­perts said.

There also are con­cerns that stray sig­nals from anti-drone de­fenses could in­ter­fere with cell­phones or ra­dios, pos­si­bly af­fect­ing heart mon­i­tors or air­plane nav­i­ga­tion equip­ment.

Still, given the threats, a num­ber of pri­vate firms are tak­ing le­gal risks, cal­cu­lat­ing that the con­se­quences of break­ing the law would be less se­vere than an at­tack. Some sta­di­ums de­ploy tech­nolo­gies that can in­ter­fere with an op­er­a­tor’s abil­ity to con­trol a drone, ac­cord­ing to an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial who was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly.

FBI di­rec­tor Christo­pher A. Wray, tes­ti­fy­ing be­fore a Se­nate panel in Septem­ber, noted ter­ror­ists’ use of drones over­seas and said, “I think the ex­pec­ta­tion is it’s com­ing here im­mi­nently.”

The Dal­las Cow­boys’ and Texas Rangers’ sta­di­ums, as well as those at the Uni­ver­si­ties of Ne­braska, Mis­souri, Texas and Ken­tucky have all had unwelcome vis­its from drones, ac­cord­ing to FAA records ob­tained un­der a pub­lic records re­quest. One op­er­a­tor flew his drone “in close prox­im­ity” to four parachutists land­ing at the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky. He later lost con­trol and crashed the de­vice in­side the sta­dium; he was fined $2,200.

One prob­lem, author­i­ties say, is they can’t tell friend from foe.

The FAA is push­ing for a re­quire­ment that all drones have the elec­tronic equiv­a­lent of a li­cense plate to al­low for re­mote iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and track­ing. That would re­quire chang­ing an ex­ist­ing ban on FAA reg­u­la­tions on the more than 1 mil­lion drones deemed “recre­ational.”

The House passed a bill last month out­law­ing guns on drones, though some in Congress ques­tioned whether that, too, would be un­der­mined by ex­ist­ing law.

Mapes posted videos show­ing test runs of his leaflet drops in the days be­fore he headed for the 49ers game. “I had bombed the Sacra­mento Area, Capi­tol TV Sta­tions for 1 month prior to the 2 NFL games in Novem­ber,” he wrote in an ex­change of mes­sages with The Wash­ing­ton Post.

His fliers were em­bla­zoned with a stark red “X,” an Amer­i­can flag and his name. He warned that “Pros­ti­tutes and Felons have been In­fil­trated into Amer­ica’s News­rooms and Lo­cal Mu­nic­i­pal Pol­i­tics,” as well as the Oval Of­fice.

“These leaflets were passed out in quite a scary way for us,” Santa Clara po­lice Capt. Wahid Kazem said. “We’re not only wor­ried about what is com­ing down from the sky from this thing. We’re wor­ried about how peo­ple are re­act­ing to that in the seats.”

Even spook­ing a tiny frac­tion of the crowd could lead to tragedy, he said.

Mapes drove off to­ward the Oak­land Coli­seum, where he hoped for a re­peat per­for­mance.

Author­i­ties found Mapes near the coli­seum, and he was later charged with a mis­de­meanor. Fed­eral of­fi­cials opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which con­tin­ues.

Mapes once worked in news video and now lives in an 8-by-7foot shed after his rent was raised, he said. He plans to con­tinue his “cam­paign to turn this God damned coun­try back into some form of san­ity that I might rec­og­nize from child­hood, be­fore I run out of breath.”

“The tech­nol­ogy we re­ally need is not yet le­gal to use.”

Cathy L. Lanier, the NFL’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of se­cu­rity


A drone, cen­ter, crashed into the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky’s Com­mon­wealth Sta­dium, now Kroger Field, on Sept. 5, 2015. The sta­dium is one of sev­eral in the coun­try that has had an unwelcome drone visit.

Tracy Mapes dropped fliers over a sta­dium via drone.

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