US Lawmakers Seek Probe of Chinese Drone Maker Autel Robotics


WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A bipartisan group of 11 U.S. House lawmakers on Thursday asked the Biden administration to investigate and potentially sanction Chinese drone maker Autel Robotics, citing national security concerns.

The letter, signed by House China select committee chair Mike Gallagher, a Republican, and the panel’s top Democrat, Raja Krishnamoorthi, asked the Commerce, Defense and Treasury departments to investigate Autel Robotics, whose parent company is Autel Intelligent Technology.

The letter said Autel Robotics is openly affiliated with China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “and poses a direct threat to U.S. national security as local law enforcement and state and local governments are purchasing and operating Autel drones, potentially exposing sensitive data across the country.”

The Pentagon said it would respond to the lawmakers’ letter. Commerce and Treasury did not immediately comment. Autel could not immediately be reached for comment.

Another signer of the letter, Republican Representative Elise Stefanik, said, “Autel drones made in Communist China present an unacceptable national security risk and should not be allowed to operate in America.”

The Commerce Department in 2020 imposed export restrictions on China-based drone manufacturer DJI, accusing it of complicity in the oppression of China’s Uyghur minority and helping the military.

The lawmakers asked if Autel should face similar restrictions, citing concerns that Autel technology was used in Xinjiang, and said the company “further appears to be potentially supporting Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.”

Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi earlier this month introduced legislation seeking to ban the U.S. government from buying any Chinese drones.

Congress in 2019 banned the Pentagon from buying or using drones and components manufactured in China.

The U.S. government has taken other actions to limit Chinese-made drone purchases.

The U.S. Interior Department in January 2020 said it was grounding its fleet of about 800 Chinese-made drones after halting additional purchases of such drones by the agency.

Over 50% of drones sold in the United States are made by DJI, and they are the most popular drones in use by public safety agencies, Republican lawmakers said earlier this year.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese and Mark Porter)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.


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