WASHINGTON — The man operating the drone that crashed on the White House grounds called the U.S. Secret Service on Monday morning to “self-report” his involvement in the incident.
The drone’s owner and operator works for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, a government entity with mapping and national security duties.
The agency confirmed in a statement issued on Tuesday one of its employees was the operator of the drone that crashed by the White House. The employee was off-duty and the drone flight was not work-related, according to the statement.
He was interviewed by Secret Service agents on Monday and has been fully cooperative, Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said in a statement Monday afternoon.
“Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device,” Leary said.
The Secret Service locked down the White House shortly after 3 a.m. after an officer on the south grounds of the White House spotted the drone, described as a two-foot wide “quad copter,” flying above the White House grounds before crashing on the southeast side of the complex. The officer saw the drone flying at a very low altitude.
The drone was believed to have flown over the White House residence after taking off in a neighborhood east of the White House, a Secret Service source said.
A second source said the flight path had not been fully confirmed by investigators.
The Secret Service will continue to investigate the incident through “corroborative interviews, forensic examinations and reviews of all other investigative leads,” Leary said.
A Secret Service official said the owner of the drone called in after seeing reports of the drone on the news.
The Secret Service was sweeping the White House grounds on Monday morning looking for anything else that might be on the ground.
President Barack Obama and the first lady are both away, traveling in India.
The executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, Michael Drobac, called the news of the drone crashing at the White House a “terrible incident” for the drone industry because it sends a message that drone users aren’t using the technology responsibly.
But the vast majority of the at least half-million drone users in the U.S. are, Drobac said, citing a conservative estimate. The problem is “bad actors,” he said, and the industry is working with the FAA to educate new users about the rules for operating drones.
And the industry is developing new technologies to prevent users from operating drones in unauthorized spaces. Some of the newest models of recreational drones won’t turn on in unauthorized areas, like within 5 miles of an airport, Drobac said.
“Technology is going to help solve the problem and is already doing it. I trust technology over rogue operators,” he said.
Flying drones is illegal in the District of Columbia, but that hasn’t always kept them out of the capital’s skies.
The Secret Service previously detained an individual operating a quadcopter drone on July 3 in President’s Park, just a block from the South Lawn of the White House, according to a report filed with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Another person was detained by the U.S. Capitol Police for flying a drone on the Capitol Hill grounds. And in October, a drone was spotted above D.C.’s Bolling Air Force Base.
A surge in interest in drones and how they should be regulated even brought one to Capitol Hill — inside a committee room, no less.
Congressmen watched in awe as robotics company executive flew a drone inside the committee room during a House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing on integrating commercial drones.
The drone even crashed in the committee room, though it did recover.
The Secret Service patrolling the grounds of the White House has been in the national spotlight for the past year ever since a man managed to hop the fence and get inside the White House itself through an unlocked door. The incident led to the resignation of the Secret Service’s director and reassignment of other top level officials.
An independent report commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security said in its executive summary said the department was stretched “beyond its limits” late last year.