Secret Service investigating drone found on White House grounds

A member of the Secret Service's Uniformed Division sits in his car on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House on Jan 26, 2015, in Washington, DC. The  Secret Service recovered a small, remote-controlled drone on the White House grounds
A member of the Secret Service's Uniformed Division sits in his car on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House on Jan 26, 2015, in Washington, DC. The  Secret Service recovered a small, remote-controlled drone on the White House grounds overnight and is investigating how it got there, a federal official said. -- PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The US Secret Service recovered a remote- controlled small drone on the White House grounds overnight and is investigating how it got there, a federal official said.

The device found is a quadcopter, a commercially available device that costs a few hundred dollars, said the official, who asked for anonymity because the information isn't yet public.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest declined to characterize the device earlier Monday, saying only that "it does not pose any sort of ongoing threat to anybody at the White House."

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are in New Dehli on a diplomatic mission to forge closer ties with India. Their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, remained in the US though it wasn't clear whether the girls were at the White House at the time.

The Secret Service, which has undergone a management upheaval following several security breaches at the Executive Mansion, didn't immediately respond to requests for information.

Four top Secret Service officials were removed from their jobs in early January as part of an agency overhaul in the wake of high-profile security lapses. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration is working to develop rules for the use of small drones after 193 reports of drones flying near aircraft, buildings or crowds from Feb. 22 through Nov. 11, 2014.

The most common commercially available quadcopters, such as SZ DJI Technology Co.'s Phantom 2, weigh only a few pounds and frequently come equipped with a camera.

Entry-level small drones must be flown within a short distance of the operator because the radio-control signal has a limited range. Models may be equipped with better radios and video controls, which enable a pilot to fly the craft over longer distances.

While the device didn't pose a threat to the Obamas, it came on the heels of several other security breaches at the White House.

An outside panel of experts concluded late in 2014 that the Secret Service must beef up its training and change its leadership and culture in light of security mishaps and a prostitution scandal in 2012 that drew scrutiny from lawmakers and White House officials. It recommended that the next director come from outside the agency.

A report by the Department of Homeland Security in November painted a devastating picture of one of the most concerning security lapses, which it blamed on inadequate training, poor communications and lax patrols. In the September incident, a man jumped the White House fence, dashed across the north lawn and slipped into the Executive Mansion through an unlocked door. He was not apprehended until he was near the stairs to the president's residence.

Since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, it has been illegal to fly planes, including unmanned aircraft, over Washington without special approval.

The US Federal Aviation Administration permits drones to be flown by hobbyists provided the flight is purely for recreation and follows safety guidelines, such as flying no higher than 400 feet above the ground. The rules also say they shouldn't be flown in populated areas or within 5 miles of an airport, both of which would prohibit a flight near the White House. Reagan National Airport is in Virginia across the Potomac River from Washington.