Drone incident raises more White House security concerns for Secret Service

The United States Secret Service is investigating another security breach at the White House. A quadcopter crashed onto the White House grounds overnight.

The drone crashed into a tree on the South Lawn early Monday morning. The Secret Service says a man came forward and admitted he was operating the drone and didn't mean to fly it over the fence.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton says the incident exposed security vulnerabilities.

"I am even more concerned about drones because of what they could haul over the White House with one of these contraptions that are so easy to construct," said Norton.

The Secret Service has interviewed the man and they say he has been fully cooperative and believe he was flying the drone for fun.

Flying drones recreationally to get photos and video is a growing hobby for many. But one enthusiast we spoke with says he can't understand how anyone would think it is okay to do that near the White House.

This latest incident is also raising new security concerns about a threat one expert says the Secret Service has been worrying about for a while.

A drone has helped David Butts and his friend Larry Rogers capture sweeping views of our region that draws 5,000 people to their Mid-Atlantic Aerial Facebook page.

But before they ever put their recreational drone up in the sky, they always review maps of Washington D.C.'s vast no-fly zone on their phones.

"I've got another map that is actually more detailed that I can zoom into and actually see almost exact streets," said Butts.

So he can't believe that someone with the same type of drone that he has took it to the White House.

"It's just surprising someone would think it's okay to fly it that close to the White House, and at 3 a.m. in the morning, because the camera on the Phantom Vision or the Go Pro camera does not do well in low light," said Butts. "So if you are getting video at night, it is not going to look that spectacular. Why out there at 3 a.m. seems really strange to fly at that time."

He says this incident paints recreational drone pilots in a bad light.

But author Ron Kessler, who has written 20 books on intelligence issues, including most recently, The First Family Detail, believes it is far worse than that.

"This incident does give other terrorists or potential assassins the idea they could use drones, so it's a very dangerous development," he told us.

Kessler says the Secret Service has been aware of this threat for a while. He penned an essay for Time magazine Monday titled, "The Drone Threat May Be the Only Problem the Secret Service Is on Top Of."

"The Secret Service has been working with the Defense Department and national laboratories to develop counter measures for a problem like this," said Kessler. "Unlike the rest of the Secret Service that just seems totally screwed up, they have been on top of this problem. They have been working on it."

But he says stopping a drone at the White House could be more complicated than bringing down a plane headed for the iconic building.

"These missiles that can shoot down a plane cannot be used on a drone," Kessler said. "First of all, it is very difficult to detect the drone and distinguish it from birds, for example, so they are working on that. Secondly, they need very discrete high energy beams to zap the electronics in these drones."

Kessler warns while the Secret Service is working to stop them, there are a lot of scenarios they have to consider.

"With a drone, you could have a bomb, other explosive devices or weapons of mass destruction -- biological agents, radiological agents," he said. "They could fly right into the White House and really take out the president. There is no question."

Kessler says the Secret Service is working with the Defense Department and the Energy Department's national laboratories on countermeasures.

He says the main focus is trying to inactivate electrical components of drones -- maybe with electromagnetic waves or through radio signals.

He says that is still a work in progress.