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Small drone crashes on White House lawn: a few unanswered questions

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US Secret Service/Handout via Reuters

(Read caption) A recreational drone that landed on the White House South Lawn is seen in this US Secret Service handout image taken and released on Monday.

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A device that has since been identified as a “small drone” was found early this morning on the White House lawn:

A small drone was found on the White House grounds early Monday, news reports said, but officials said it was recovered and posed no ongoing threat.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest, speaking to reporters in New Delhi, said the Secret Service found a “device” and was investigating the latest breach of perimeter security at the executive mansion. He gave no further details.

The Associated Press and others described the object as a “quadcopter,” a commercially available drone with four propellers.

There was no official comment from authorities on the drone reports.

Earnest said the device did not pose a threat to the building or the first family. President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were in India, but were not accompanied by their daughters Sasha and Malia.

It was not immediately clear whether the girls were at the White House when the device was discovered before dawn. They were under the care of their grandmother, who also lives at the White House.

“There is a device that has been recovered by the Secret Service at the White House,” Earnest said when asked if a drone was found. “The early indications are that it does not pose any sort of ongoing threat to anybody at the White House.”

Around 5 a.m., authorities could be seen searching the White House grounds with flashlights. Investigators continued the search after sunrise as a light snow fell.

Based on other reports, it does appear that agents were aware of the drone before it crashed, but it’s unclear whether they did anything to cause it to crash or whether it crashed on its own. It’s also unclear where the drone came from, and while it may turn out that there is an innocent explanation for all of this, this is yet another example of security vulnerabilities at what I supposed to be the most secure building in the world.

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UpdateThe New York Times is reporting that the person responsible for the drone has been identified as “a government employee” who says that flying the drone that close to the White House was a mistake:

WASHINGTON — The small drone that crashed into a tree on the South Lawn of the White House early Monday morning was operated by a government employee who has told the Secret Service that he did not mean to fly it over the White House fence and near the president’s residence, according to law enforcement officials.

The employee — who does not work for the White House — has told the Secret Service that he was flying the drone for recreational purposes at about 3 a.m. in the area around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when he lost control of it. [Emphasis added.]

So far, the Secret Service said it believed the man’s account.

The small, commercial quad copter drone crashed on the southeast grounds, forcing a brief lockdown of the White House complex, the Secret Service said.

Officials said in a statement that a Secret Service officer posted on the south grounds of the White House “heard and observed” the device, which was about two feet in diameter, at about 3:08 a.m.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, who is traveling with President Obama and Michelle Obama in India, said the drone did not appear to be dangerous. Mr. and Mrs. Obama are on a three-day visit to India, but their daughters, Malia and Sasha, are in Washington.

“There is a device that has been recovered by the Secret Service at the White House,” Mr. Earnest told reporters. “The early indications are that it does not pose any sort of ongoing threat to anybody at the White House.”

Flying a drone for recreational purposes? At 3 a.m.? Near the White House?

Doug Mataconis appears on the Outside the Beltway blog at