Secret Service working with French to track down Paris drone operators – report

A view shows the illuminated Eiffel Tower and La Defense business district (background) in Paris February 24, 2015 (Reuters / Gonzalo Fuentes)
Weeks after terror attacks rocked Paris, the US Secret Service is in contact with French officials in the latter’s attempt to uncover who is flying unmanned aerial vehicles over the city – including over the US Embassy and the Eiffel Tower.

"We had folks from Paris calling us yesterday because of all the UAV’s [unmanned aerial vehicles] over there," a law enforcement official told CNN.

READ MORE: US Embassy, Eiffel Tower: Unknown drones buzz Paris landmarks

This week, at least five UAVs were spotted over the Eiffel Tower, the US Embassy, Place de la Concorde and Montparnasse Tower – the tallest skyscraper in the French capital – as well as over the presidential palace and nuclear plants, according to French officials.

French authorities do not know who is operating the civilian-model UAVs, or if the small drones pose a danger to the city.

Officers have been unable to capture any of the UAVs, and authorities say they are unsure if the flights were coordinated, or who may be behind them.

The drone sightings come after heightened security was instituted in the French capital following last month’s terror attacks which killed 17 people.

It is against the law in France to use civilian drones near state-sensitive facilities such as nuclear power plants, "which are protected by a no-fly zone that spans a radius of 2.5km and a height of 1,000 meters," AFP reported. Drone owners require municipal permits to fly UAVs over densely populated areas, and rule breakers face punishments of a year in prison or a €75,000 (US$85,000) fine.

It was reported Wednesday that three Al Jazeera journalists were detained in Paris for operating a drone in an urban area. Sources said, though, that there is no evidence to suggest the journalists were involved in the drone appearances over city landmarks in recent days.

"The first was piloting the drone, the second was filming and the third [was] watching," a judicial source told AFP.

The US Secret Service, meanwhile, is preparing for UAV readiness drills around the White House following an incident last month in which a small quadcopter drone crashed on the White House lawn one early morning.

READ MORE: Unmanned, unregulated & on White House grounds: Obama says drones need rules

"The United States Secret Service, in conjunction with other inter-agency partners, will conduct a series of exercises involving unmanned aircraft systems, in the coming days and weeks," the agency said in a statement.

"Because these exercises will be conducted within the normally flight restricted areas in the Washington DC area, they have been carefully planned and will be tightly controlled," the Secret Service added in its advisory.