WASHINGTON – A man has claimed responsibility for the drone that crashed onto the White House grounds early Monday, an incident that triggered an immediate lockdown and a Secret Service investigation.
Secret Service spokeswoman Nicole B. Mainor said the individual contacted the agency Monday morning to "self-report" the incident. According to Mainor, "initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device."
A U.S. official told The Associated Press the man said he didn't mean to fly the drone over the White House; he is said to be cooperating with investigators. The New York Times reported he is a government employee, though he does not work for the White House.
"This investigation continues as the Secret Service conducts corroborative interviews, forensic examinations and reviews all other investigative leads," Mainor said, adding that the case will be presented to the U.S. attorney's office in D.C. for a decision on possible prosecution.
The development comes after the two-foot-long "quadcopter" drone crash-landed onto the grounds overnight. Brian Leary, a Secret Service spokesman, said that an officer posted on the south grounds of the White House complex "heard and observed" the device "flying at a very low altitude" shortly after 3 a.m. ET. Leary said the drone ultimately crashed on the southeast side of the complex.
Though the White House says the device posed no threat, it is the latest in a line of security incidents at the complex. And the breach was bound to reinvigorate a long-running public debate about the use of commercial drones in U.S. skies -- as well concerns about White House security. At the urging of the drone industry, the Obama administration is on the verge of proposing rules for drone operations that would replace an existing ban on most commercial flights.
"With the discovery of an unauthorized drone on the White House lawn, the eagle has crash-landed in Washington; there is no stronger sign that clear FAA guidelines for drones are needed," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement Monday afternoon.
The "device" was found while President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were traveling in India. It was unclear whether their daughters, Sasha and Malia, were at home at the time of the incident with their grandmother, Marian Robinson, who also lives at the White House.
Many small quadcopters are essentially sophisticated toys that can also be used for commercial activities like aerial photography and inspection. Often weighing only a few pounds, they sell for as little as a few hundred dollars or less, and were popular Christmas gifts last year. More elaborate models sell for thousands.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, speaking in New Delhi, acknowledged a "device" was found. "The early indications are that it does not pose any sort of ongoing threat to anybody at the White House," he said.
Police, fire and other emergency vehicles swarmed around the White House in the predawn hours, with several clustered near the southeast entrance to the mansion. The White House was dark and the entire perimeter was on lockdown until around 5 a.m., when those who work in the complex were allowed inside.
After daylight, more than a dozen Secret Service officers fanned out in a search across the White House lawn as snow began to fall. They peered down in the grass and used flashlights to look through the large bushes that line the mansion's driveway.
Previous security breaches at the White House have led to questions about the Secret Service's effectiveness.
Four high-ranking executives were reassigned this month, and former director Julia Pierson was forced to resign last year after a Texas man armed with a knife was able to get over a White House fence in September and run deep into the executive mansion before being subdued.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.