In this frame from CNN footage aired on March 14, a DJI Matrice M600 Pro equipped with the A3 Pro positioning system (the white discs), apparently the same model used in the attack in Caracas last August. Image: CNN

CNN interviews man claiming to be Maduro assassination attempt organizer

Security • law enforcement • countermeasures

Cable News Network (CNN), the American news outlet, has published a report with video following an interview with a man claiming to be the organizer of the August 4 assassination attempt in Caracas on Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, using two drones. Seven people were injured in the two explosions. A number of arrests were made following the attack, but it is unclear if the suspects had anything to do with the incident.

The man, whose identity was not revealed, provided CNN with cellphone footage said to be from a rented farm at a remote site in Columbia. The videos show men unboxing and assembling two Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI) Matrice M600 Pro c-drones on a billiards table. Scenes purporting to show an explosive charge mounted underneath one of the drones and a DJI flight controller were partially blurred by CNN editors. Video footage said to be taken on the grounds of the farmhouse show two DJI Phantom quadcopter drones being flown simultaneously in what was described as practice piloting. CNN did not specify that the Phantom quadcopters shown in the practice runs differ from the larger M600 Pro hexacopters shown being prepared for the attack.

The man interviewed claimed that following the assassination attempt, he met with US officials on three occasions to answer their questions and solicit assistance, which he said was not forthcoming.

The footage shows clearly that both of the M600 Pro drones are equipped with DJI’s A3 Pro positioning system, a set of three redundant GPS units and controllers meant to provide more precise and reliable positioning than the stock single A3 system delivered on the original M600 model. The C-Drone Review had identified such a three-sensor system on one of the M600 drones which exploded in August from analysis of Telemundo footage.

Although CNN in their report said the drones used in the attack were “small”, the M600 Pro model is an industrial-grade hexacopter c-drone with a payload of 13lb (6kg) and is larger than the Phantom models shown flying in the footage. Video from last August in Caracas shows that the landing struts of the M600 Pros had been removed, lightening the drones for their one-way trips. The M600 Pro folds to a smaller size than the original M600; CNN said in their report they were told that the drones used in the attack were dismantled, taken over the border from Columbia to Venezuela, and reassembled there.

Contacted, DJI could not definitively confirm that some of its drones appear in the footage aired by CNN, although that appears to be the case. A spokesman for DJI, Adam Lisberg, sent the following statement to the C-Drone Review:

DJI makes drones entirely for peaceful purposes, and we absolutely deplore any attempt to use our drones to cause harm. We build safety features into our products to help drone pilots avoid flying in restricted areas, and we developed our AeroScope system to allow authorities to remotely identify and track airborne drones. We have little ability to control what people do with our products after purchase, but anyone who deliberately misuses our products should expect to be held responsible for their actions.

Venezuela is in crisis, with widespread shortages of staple foodstuffs and medical supplies, rolling power outages, and thousands of inhabitants leaving the country every day. President Maduro has accused Columbia and the United States of conspiring against him, without proof. The US withdrew its last embassy personnel from Venezuela last week, as opposition politician Juan Guaidó seeks to oust Maduro from power.