Exclusive: The FBI Accidentally Told Us It Had Three Drones As of 2010

Even the Bureau's redaction artists slip up every once in awhile.

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Mar 13 2014, 5:30pm
Image: Cliff/Flickr.

It’s been four and a half months since a federal judge ordered the FBI to release thousands of documents on the agency’s use of drones. At 800 pages released so far, the Bureau has done its damnedest to scrub out particulars about its unmanned inventory, past and present.

But even FBI redaction artists slip up and accidentally divulge some hard figures once in awhile.

After months of anticipation, we finally know approximately how many drones the FBI had. In 2010.

In a December 2010 submission to the Federal Aviation Administration, the FBI asserted that its three drones [“UAS,” or unmanned aerial system, in the above] were safe to fly in domestic skies. In an otherwise heavily redacted document, this one number escaped the censors’ gaze.

To be clear, this number tells us very little. Even beyond the fact that it’s now three years outdated, the trio of drone units indicated here are almost certainly just the FBI’s holdings for one particular manufacturer, as the FAA requires separate paperwork for each drone model.

But after dozens of invoices voided of all details save the submission date, and scores of emails between Bureau administrators scrambling to count their drones, this one whoopsie in favor of transparency is a disproportionate thrill.

We'll follow up on this story as it develops.