US officials ground drones over espionage fears

US officials may put an end to a civilian drone programme because of their concerns about the unmanned aerial vehicles that are made in China. The officials are apparently worried that the Chinese-made drones could be used to spy on people in the US.

After a volcano exploded in Hawaii in May 2018, US scientists used drones to save a man from the lava: “Follow the drone,” they said. He made it through the jungle.

Drones save people. They also map terrain, survey land and inspect pipelines. The scientists use drones for these and other purposes on a daily basis, and they have bragged about their successes in the field.

Many of the aircraft are made by Chinese companies, though. They are now grounded because of concerns about espionage.

The drones had been deployed for years by the scientists and others at the US Department of the Interior, a federal agency that manages national parks and other duties. But the head of the federal agency, David Bernhardt, is apparently now worried that the drones could be used for espionage.

He is examining the agency’s civilian drone programme in an effort to determine whether or not it should be continued. During this time, many of the drones are grounded, according to an agency spokeswoman, Melissa Brown. “Until this review is completed, the secretary has directed that drones manufactured in China or made from Chinese components be grounded,” according to a statement she sent to the BBC.

Drones that are used to fight fires and help rescue people are still allowed to fly, she added. News of the fleet’s grounding was first reported in the Financial Times.

Mr Bernhardt’s review of the drone programme reflects a growing concern among US officials about Chinese technology and espionage.

President Donald Trump has spoken in dark terms about China, saying that its leaders have “cheated” the US and that its intelligence agents spy on people here. Chinese officials deny the accusations. Despite the rhetoric, US-China relations have improved.

On Wednesday, Trump is planning to sign an initial trade deal with Chinese leaders. Still, fundamental issues remain, such as the fight over technology. US officials have said in the past that Huawei, the telecommunications company, and other Chinese companies could pose a security threat.

Some Chinese analysts say the fight is not over national security but market share. The Chinese are better at making products, they say, and Americans are jealous. The Chinese analysts see the US policies as a form of protectionism.

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