A spy agency worker crashed a small remotely piloted aircraft in a White House garden

White House crash drone operated by spy agency worker

A US intelligence agency employee was identified as the pilot of an unmanned quad-copter that crashed on the  grounds of the White House on Monday spurring a major security debate. 

The US National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) spokeswoman said the agency’s off-duty employee confessed to have been piloting the aircraft spotted flying at a low altitude over the White House grounds before crashing on the south-east lawn, triggering a major security action. 

The NGA, operating under the US Defense Department, is responsible for analysing satellite images and aerial photographs taken by spy planes.

The spokeswoman said the pilot was not at this point facing disciplinary action but added the Secret Service continue to investigate the incident.

The Secret Service spokesman described the device involved in the accident, which took place while President Barack Obama was on an official visit to India, as rather harmless and said it was flown purely for recreational purposes.

Obama commented on the crash, considered a major security failure, in an interview with CNN. He admitted there was currently no legislation in place regulating the use of drones, which, he said, could be commonly bought in electronics retail chains.

"We don't yet have the legal structures and the architecture both globally and within individual countries to manage them the way that we need to," he said.

"Part of my job over the past several years and over the next couple of years that I'm still in office is seeing if we can start providing some sort of framework that ensures that we get the good and minimise the bad."

The US Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) is reportedly in the process of developing guidance for commercial drone operations including news gathering and environmental monitoring.

The technology triggered a major debate in the UK in late November last year after the UK Airprox Board revealed a similar device came within 20ft of a landing passenger jet at Heathrow Airport.

The board rated the incident as an A on a five-point scale, meaning the highest level of collision risk. 

Earlier this week, former security and counter-terrorism minister Lord West of Spithead called for stricter controls on drones due to fears the technology could be easily exploited by terrorists.

“There is no specific criminal terrorism offence regarding unmanned aerial vehicles as there are for aircraft," Lord West said during a debate on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, pointing to the fact that anyone can purchase these devices for as little as a couple of hundred pounds and use them to carry explosives or biological agents.

Under current CAA regulations, small UAVs not equipped with radar transponders and thus not visible to conventional air-traffic control radars can only be flown legally within segregated airspace or within the line of sight of the operator up to a maximum altitude of 400ft. The CAA also limits the use of drones over densely populated areas, issuing permits on a case by case basis.

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