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A drone on display in the Shenzhen, China, headquarters of DJI, the manufacturer of the drone used in the attack on President Maduro. Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuela’s Commander of the National Guard posted a video on Monday about the drone attack against President Maduro the previous weekend, showing pictures of a nearly $5,000 M600 drone. As one product review of that drone model notes, “Only a professional needs a beast capable of carrying a 13-pound payload,” a large volume if the payload is explosives.

Why it matters: Although details of the attack are still emerging, the scenario is one that drone experts have predicted for years. No longer restricted to advanced militaries, drones are now accessible to non-state actors and even individuals, lowering the bar for anyone with nefarious aims and not-too-deep pockets to pull off an attack.

In the Middle East, the Islamic State has been weaponizing commercially available drones by modifying them with explosives. Since its first foray in October 2016, when it used a bomb-equipped drone to kill two Kurdish soldiers, the Islamic State has improved the accuracy of these devices and perfected a strategy for terrorist groups elsewhere to carry out similar attacks.

In civilian settings, drones are attractive to attackers because they can circumvent security barriers and metal detectors that would stop vehicles or handheld firearms. The growing risk has been underscored by several high-profile incidents, including a drone that hovered in front of German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a campaign rally in 2013 before crashing at her feet and another, too small for radar to detect, that landed on the White House lawn in 2015.

What to watch: The drone threat is driving a counter-drone market that includes lasers, jammers and even eagles. The Pentagon alone has requested $1.5 billion for counter-drone programs.

Yes, but: Offense still holds the advantage. There’s a nearly infinite number of “soft targets” and an attacker only has to be right once. At a bare minimum, a drone attack scores points as a spectacle, so that even failure is success if it instills panic among the public or in a political leader. So even if drones are not the “perfect assassination weapon,” as Senator Dianne Feinstein has claimed, they are probably good enough that they we will see them used for these purposes again.

Sarah Kreps is an associate professor of government at Cornell University and the author of "Drone Warfare" (with John Kaag) and "Drones: What Everyone Needs to Know."

Go deeper

Tech scrambles to derail inauguration threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tech companies are sharing more information with law enforcement in a frantic effort to prevent violence around the inauguration, after the government was caught flat-footed by the Capitol siege.

Between the lines: Tech knows it will be held accountable for any further violence that turns out to have been planned online if it doesn't act to stop it.

Dave Lawler, author of World
5 hours ago - World

Uganda's election: Museveni declared winner, Wine claims fraud

Wine rejected the official results of the election. Photo: Sumy Sadruni/AFP via Getty

Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner of a sixth presidential term on Saturday, with official results giving him 59% to 35% for Bobi Wine, the singer-turned-opposition leader.

Why it matters: This announcement was predictable, as the election was neither free nor fair and Museveni had no intention of surrendering power after 35 years. But Wine — who posed a strong challenged to Museveni, particularly in urban areas, and was beaten and arrested during the campaign — has said he will present evidence of fraud. The big question is whether he will mobilize mass resistance in the streets.

Off the Rails

Episode 1: A premeditated lie lit the fire

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 1: Trump’s refusal to believe the election results was premeditated. He had heard about the “red mirage” — the likelihood that early vote counts would tip more Republican than the final tallies — and he decided to exploit it.

"Jared, you call the Murdochs! Jason, you call Sammon and Hemmer!”