New Cybersecurity Controversy Erupts on Hill

The Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee has demanded an “immediate explanation” of the cybersecurity failings of a popular small drone.  In an “urgent” letter to Henri Seydoux, the CEO of Parrot Group, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) pointed with alarm to the outcome of the Lawfare Drone Smackdown.  “Using a variety of cyberattacks, Ben Wittes and his team seized and disabled the opposing drones,” Sen. Rockefeller wrote. “What I and the rest of America want to know is how America’s critical Parrot infrastructure came to be so insecure.”

In an apparently coordinated move, Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) released her own letter to Seydoux, asking pointedly about the role of French intelligence in the cybersecurity weaknesses of the widely used Parrot drone.  The Parrot Group is headquartered in Paris. “Thousands of Americans use the Parrot, and we lead the world in its weaponization,” the letter said. “The Lawfare Drone Smackdown has symbolized all that is best in American defense ingenuity. So it is disturbing to discover that the Smackdown, and the Parrot itself, have been compromised by so many cybersecurity weaknesses as to suggest a state-sponsored attack.”

The concerns raised by Sen. Rockefeller come at a time when cybersecurity dominates the agenda in Washington.  The Senator recently wrote to the CEOs of the nation’s largest companies, seeking information on their cybersecurity status. But the tone of the Parrot correspondence has a harsher undertone, suggesting that the outcome of the Smackdown may have serious diplomatic consequences at a time when relations with France are already strained over how and whether to intervene in Syria’s ongoing civil strife.

The House Intelligence Committee is planning hearings into French influence on the design of the Parrot, sources say. The hearings are expected to dramatize the need for the United States to achieve self-sufficiency in the toy attack drone industry. The hearings will resemble recent committee inquiries into Chinese penetration of U.S. telecommunications infrastructure but may become more personal.  In addition to calling Seydoux to testify, sources at the committee hint that they may seek the testimony of Ben Wittes, whose team won the Smackdown by using a host of previously unknown cybersecurity attacks on the Parrot infrastructure.  “Based on the evidence we’ve seen, we want to know why he hasn’t registered under the Foreign Agent Registration Act,” said a member of committee staff, who asked to remain anonymous because of the embarrassment of being associated with such an obviously phony story.

UPDATE: I’m disappointed to discover that some people were fooled by this story, perhaps because they didn’t read the last few words of the post. To be clear, this is a phony story, written simply to draw attention to the Lawfare Drone Smackdown and its unusual outcome.