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By Jonathan Dienst

NEW YORK -- An unmanned drone being built by an engineer on Long Island sparked a large counter-terrorism investigation across the New York area, officials tell WNBC.com. Police said they had stumbled upon overnight testing of the drone at a little-used airstrip in Calverton, Long Island.
The investigation began in February of last year, when investigators first learned testing of the drone was underway. Officials said the drone was being designed to carry more than 600 pounds of explosives.

"It could be in the air for 8-10 hours and there's potential harm if it is carrying a large amount of toxic material," NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in explaining why his department's counterterrorism officials were concerned.

Police surveillance video obtained by News 4 New York shows a white van rolling onto the tarmac, a small group of men jumping out and ground testing the unmanned flight vehicle.

Kelly said the engineer building the drone never reported his work to any agency including the Federal Aviation Administration or local authorities. Investigators said concern increased for a time when they learned the man behind the project was an Egyptian national who had entered the U.S. on a Sudanese passport.

"It was such a bizarre set of circumstances," said New York State Homeland Security Director Michael Balboni. "Of course we watched it as closely as we did anything that was on our radar screen."

NYPD officials worked with Suffolk County police and the FBI to determine there were no ties to terror. Under questioning, the engineer said he was an inventor hoping to sell this drone model to the U.S. military. NYPD Lieutenant William McGroarty said during the investigation they had other questions.

"What if this individual could not sell to the military?" McGroarty asked. "Would he then turn and sell it to the highest bidder?"

The military uses unmanned aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan. But security officials worry about terrorists acquiring them. Earlier this year, Homeland Security officials issued a general bulletin warning they could be used "as an improvised explosive device."

In this case, police said there is no evidence any laws were broken as the drone was tested on the ground. Officials said if it had gone into the air without prior FAA approval, it could have been considered a crime.

While there are no terror links, police said their investigation continues. The engineer, who News 4 New York will not name because he was not charged, did not respond to numerous requests for comment. His drone project has now been taken over by a Maryland-based company that has registered with the FAA, officials said. One investigator said the engineer, at best, had showed poor judgment in trying to do the project in a manner that raised so many alarms.

After repeated requests for information about this investigation, law enforcement agencies agreed to talk about the case to highlight the city's "Operation Sentry." This NYPD program enables city and suburban police to better share threat information. Officials said the drone investigation is one recent example of how Suffolk County police officials quickly engaged the NYPD's counter-terrorism division to help investigate the report of a drone sighting.

"Regional cooperation is the order of the day. Law enforcement gets it and is communicating more than ever before," Kelly said.

http://www.wnbc.com/news/17266645/detail.html
 
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