After revelation about taking veil of massive electronic surveillance, FBI Director Robert Mueller has admitted at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the United States uses drones for surveillance in some limited law enforcement situations.
The disclosure came in response to questions from US senators on Wednesday. They wanted to know more about the federal government's increasing use of unmanned aircraft.
"Does the FBI use drones for surveillance on U.S. soil?" Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa asked during the hearing.
"Yes," Mueller said, adding that the use was in "a very, very minimal way and very seldom."
The FBI later released a statement that said unmanned aircraft were used only to watch stationary subjects and to avoid serious risks to law enforcement agents. The Federal Aviation Administration approves each use, the statement reiterated.
Mueller's comments come as the Obama administration grapples with political and other fallout from the public disclosure of top-secret surveillance programs, which has triggered new debate over reach of national security vs. privacy rights.
But the use of drones in US are sure to raise public anger. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein expressed concern over drone use domestically.
"I think the greatest threat to the privacy of Americans is the drone and the use of the drone, and the very few regulations that are on it today and the booming industry of commercial drones," the California Democrat said.
Mueller said he would need to check on the bureau's policy for retaining images from drones and report back to the panel.
The FBI used a drone during a hostage-taking in Alabama this year after a gunman, Jimmy Lee Dykes, snatched a boy off a school bus and held him in an underground bunker, according to the statement.
Cheaper drones score over expensive copter flights
Unmanned drone use is becoming more common in the United States although it is not lawful in many cases.
The FAA forecasts some 10,000 civilian drones will be in use in the United States within five years, including those for law enforcement and commercial purposes.
Because they are cheaper to use than helicopters, unmanned aircraft can be used to monitor crops and livestock, look at damage to buildings and for other uses.
The FAA recently announced plans to create six drone test sites around the country.
With agencies inputs