Your taxpayer dollars have been used to fund America’s enemies and put Chinese Communist Party spies in your local sheriff’s department.

If security experts are to be trusted, multiple sheriff’s departments across Texas have compromised themselves by purchasing and using drones from Da Jiang Innovations. Based in Shenzhen, which is in the Chinese province of Guangdong, this company has deep connections to the Chinese Communist Party, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). They have managed to corner the global and North American drone markets by offering high-quality drones that are well below the prices of their competitors.

They are not doing this as a part of some business strategy to gain market share quickly; rather, it is a part of the CCP’s global surveillance program.

Heightening tensions between the CCP and the West, including the January to February 2023 spy balloon incident, illustrate the very real dangers Beijing’s dictators pose to America.

This threat has come to the Lone Star State. Both the Texas Railroad Commission and Texas Department of Public Safety have revealed they purchased these devices. Meanwhile, the Texas Military Department, the agency charged with the defense of Texans, appealed to Attorney General Ken Paxton to hide what drones they’ve bought.

The CCP’s infiltration efforts have also managed to penetrate to close to home for many Texans by way of their local Sheriffs.

There are those like Jeffrey DeCoux, Chairman of the Autonomy Institute, who told Texas Scorecard that DJI drones can be used while offline, denying access to the CCP. DeCoux also said that if you ban buying DJI drones, then state and local public servants will be stuck with, what he calls, substandard California drones.

That still leaves the question of whether or not Texas taxpayer money should be used to fund those who hate us—in this case, the CCP and those to whom they’re connected. J. Kyle Bass, CEO of Hayman Capital Management, and co-founder of Committee on the Present Danger: China, warns about how unjust Communist China is. “They’re a threat to US national security. They don’t respect human rights. They never will,” Bass said in an August, 2022 interview with Texas Scorecard. “They’re out for global primacy. They will lie, cheat and steal their way there. They’re not a responsible global actor.”

Bass also doesn’t buy the cheap goods argument for why business with the Communist dictatorship should continue. “There’s only one reason we do business with them, and it’s because we think we have to,” he said. “We can get cheap tennis shoes, and cheap T-shirts and, and manufacture products from other places in Southeast Asia and Mexico and Canada,”

As for the espionage, there’s still an argument against inviting into your home that which is intended to spy on you.

Just look at history.

Operation Biting

By July 1940, the British Empire alone was standing toe-to-toe against the Nazi Reich. Not as mighty as she once was, she was still the only major western power openly opposing Hitler’s tyranny.

By 1942, Hitler was caught fighting three powerful foes: the United States, Soviet Russia, and the British Empire. While most history lovers talk about the battles of El Alamein, Stalingrad, or Normandy, YouTube Channel TIKHistory discusses a battle that highlights the importance of espionage, and combating such efforts. It’s called Operation Biting.

The Nazis had developed new radar technology, and the British were desperate to get their hands on it because it was putting their bombers at risk. A covert raid was planned to take place in Le Favre, a small town in occupied France where a German radar station was located.

To determine how risky this operation would be for a covert force from Britain, two French spies were dispatched to survey the area. They went to the beach where a sign announced the area was mined. As the French approached, they ran into a sentry. It was at that moment the entire operation could have been spoiled. The spies could have been taken into custody, questioned, and the operation would have been exposed, with the Nazis maintaining their technological edge.

But that’s not what happened. The spies said they were students on leave and came to see the beach. This sentry, whose job was to protect this sensitive area, merely smiled and led them through to the beach. He walked over the minefield, proving the area was not mined at all, and let the spies observe and survey as they pleased.

TIKHistory notes, from original sources, how vital this was for the Allied effort, as the spies were able to provide the Allies with an abundance of information.

The raid was a success. Not only did it eliminate the Nazi’s scientific edge in radar, but this was arguably a turning point in the war from the air just as significant as Britain’s victory at El Alamein and Russia’s victory at Stalingrad.

Thankfully, the Nazi soldier in this story made his critical mistake. One wonders what would have happened had that he reacted differently to the two French spies.

In the British and American war with the Nazis, the side devoted to the dissolution of self-governance lost. A similar battle is taking place now between Americans and the Chinese Communist Party.

Why, then, has the CCP been allowed to infiltrate the Lone Star State?

Infiltrating Republican Areas

Just like the French spies identified themselves as tourists, so has the CCP marketed DJI drones as the affordable alternative for government agencies looking for drones. Much like how the spies weren’t at the beach for a vacation, these drones aren’t here for your convenience or customer service. They’re here for surveillance, and buying these drones is funding the enemies of America.

When one thinks of national security or law enforcement at the ballot box, the Republican Party often comes to mind. It is then curious as to why Republican strongholds in Texas would line up to purchase these security threats.

One such Republican area is in the district represented by Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan (R).

On January 17, 2023, Texas Scorecard sent Orange County an open records request for drone purchases from 2014 to 2022. In response, we received one set of 38 pages of records, another set of 16 pages, and a 12-page Standard Operating Procedure document for an “Unmanned Aircraft System.”

According to these records, Orange County spent close to $30,000 of taxpayer money to acquire DJI drones.

The 16-page batch of records shows multiple purchases. In November 2018, Orange County purchased more than $25,000 worth of DJI drones or drone accessories for Sheriff Jimmy Lane Mooney’s department. This includes a discount of more than $3,000 from the vendor: North Carolina-based Precision Hawk, Inc.

These weren’t the only questionable purchases. In October 2020, during the Chinese coronavirus outbreak, more than $4,400 DJI drones or drone accessories were bought, again for the sheriff’s office. This time, the vendor was RMUS LLC, located in Utah.

As Texas Scorecard previously reported, in response to the U.S. government’s anti-infiltration efforts, DJI focused on selling their drones to American state and local governments.

The 30-page batch of records includes the same receipts but also has documentation that the October 2020 drone purchase was authorized by the county commissioners court. It was approved to replace another drone.

Texas Scorecard sent inquiries to Sheriff Mooney and Orange County Judge John Gothia, asking if they were aware of the security risk of these CCP drones and if the drones are currently in use. No response was received before publication.

Speaker Phelan and Sheriff Mooney appear to have some contact with each other. On January 20, 2023, a representative from Speaker Phelan’s office presented Sheriff Mooney and the Orange County sheriff’s office with a certificate from the Texas House and a state flag that had flown over the Capitol.

Source: Orange County Sheriff’s Office Facebook Page

Source: Orange County Sheriff’s Office Facebook Page

Texas Scorecard asked Speaker Phelan’s office what he knew about the purchasing of CCP-controlled drones and when he learned said information. We also asked if state or local governments should be allowed to purchase devices that uses its consumer to conduct espionage. No response was received before publication.

But this wasn’t the only Republican area that was voluntarily infiltrated; Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn (R) also has DJI drones.

Waybourn has been Tarrant’s sheriff since 2016Texas Scorecard requested records of drone purchases from 2014 to 2022. Records we received in response report that from 2019 to 2020, under Waybourn’s watch, the Tarrant County sheriff’s office purchased more than $27,000 worth of DJI drones or drone accessories, billed to the Tarrant County auditor.

Waybourn’s office did not respond to our request for comment before publication.

Notably, these purchases were made during the term of former County Judge Glen Whitley (R). Texas Scorecard asked new County Judge Tim O’Hare (R) if he was aware of the CCP threat of DJI drones and the county’s purchase for the sheriff’s office.

“The County Judge Office was not aware of these previously purchased drones,” replied Ruth Ray, O’Hare’s communications and policy director. “The Judge has reached out to the Sheriff’s Office to discuss the matter.”

While it may be shocking that the CCP managed to get their surveillance drones into Republican counties, the risk does not end there.

Democrat Infiltration

During the era of President George W. Bush, the Democrat Party marketed itself as the anti-war, pro-peace party. That facade has largely fallen away thanks to the Obama administration, and more recently by the Biden administration’s obsession with Ukraine.

Despite their pro-war pivot, Democrats have only established themselves as the party of government security, not national security. This has been made evident with their decades-long indifference toward the Chinese Communist Party (an indifference the Republican Party once shared).

This indifference seems to have trickled down to the local level.

First stop: corruption-plagued Harris County, where we found CCP-connected nonprofits, as reported in Texas Scorecard’s Communist China in Texas series. State Rep. Gene Wu (D–Houston) also has suspicious connections to the Maoist Marxists.

It is therefore unsurprising that DJI drones would be found here, too. In response to an open records request to the Harris County Purchasing Department, we received a two-page document showing more than $61,000 of taxpayer money was spent buying drones or drone accessories for the sheriff’s office. This money was used to buy two drones (totaling $39,976) and two dual drones (totaling $13,062). Because this document was not specific, Texas Scorecard asked the Harris County Purchasing Department if these were DJI drones. “Yes, that’s correct,” replied Paige Mcinnis of the department.

The two-page document shows this purchase was authorized unanimously by the Democrat-controlled commissioners court, including County Judge Lina Hidalgo (D), in January 2020. The 2022 election has taken place since then, replacing two of the commissioners who voted for it: Republicans Jack Cagle and Steve Radack. That leaves Hidalgo, Commissioners Rodney Ellis (D) and Adrian Garcia (D) as the the remaining ones who voted for the purchase. Texas Scorecard sent inquiries all of them, as well as recently elected Commissioners Tom Ramsey (R) and Leslie Briones (D), about this matter. An inquiry was also sent to Sheriff Ed Gonzalez (D).

Leah Shah, communications director for newly elected Commissioner Briones, replied on March 7. She directed us to Sheriff Gonzalez, pointing to the fact that Briones was not elected when the drone vote occurred, and she did not wish to comment before Gonzalez.

On March 13, Texas Scorecard received records from the Harris County Sheriff as well. These too confirmed the purchase of DJI products in March 2019 ($2,418), May 2020 ($53,038), September 2020 ($23,896.81), June 2021 ($27,381), July 2021 ($1,198), and November 2022 ($4,112.50). The grand total for this spend is more than $112,000—higher than the spend by the Texas Department of Public Safety, who as of the morning of March 13 had the highest record in our investigation. After reviewing these records from the sheriff’s office, that is no longer the case.

These records also included a September 2021 purchase of services from DroneSense for using their cloud, and their streaming services for their drone, at a cost of more than $20,000.

On March 10, three days after Shah’s contact with Texas Scorecard, Senior Deputy Thomas M. Gilliland of the sheriff’s office replied. “All of our drones currently in our use are from DJI product and were purchased through CDW-G. We do have an order pending approval for purchase of LEMUR brand drones,” he wrote in an email. “We were aware that DJI is a Chinese manufacturing company , but until this email are unaware of any ties to the communist party. We modeled our drone purchases off of what other large and progressive agencies were purchasing.”

Deputy Sheriff Gilliland then described how the Harris County Sheriff utilizes the DJI drones in their possession. “Our drones are not used for surveillance purposes. The primary uses for our drones are mapping Homicide crime scenes and fatality accident scenes,” he wrote. “Our Patrol Bureau uses them to look for evading suspects and clearing buildings and our Homeland Security Bureau uses them at the Port of Houston and to assist our SWAT team.”

In other words, the way they utilize these drones would give Beijing the opportunity to collect what State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) called “Essential Elements of Friendly Information.” He referred to this in our August 2022 interview about the threat of DJI drones. “It’s things [the CCP] can collect in the … news, they can collect them by talking to military members, they can collect it by using drones.”

Deputy Sheriff Gilliland insisted the way the Harris County Sheriff uses the CCP’s espionage drones does not allow such espionage to take place. “When we operate our drones, we do not use the DJI app’s associated with the drones. We primarily fly using the DroneSense app which is securely encrypted.” DroneSense was mentioned by Jeffrey DeCoux, chairman of the Autonomy Institute, in Texas Scorecard’s March 13 article. “It is my understanding that the only way any [of] the data can reach DJI’s cloud, as discussed in the email below, is if you fly using a DJI applications [sic].”

Deputy Sheriff Gilliland added, “We actually just learned earlier this week that there is a bill before the Texas Legislature that will forbid Texas law enforcement agencies from using DJI drones.” A search by Texas Scorecard of bills filed in the Texas House and Senate as of March 10 failed to locate legislation that specifically mentioned Da Jiang Innovations (DJI).

There is State Sen. Brandon Creighton’s (R–Conroe) Senate Bill 2405, which authorizes a “civil penalty” on “certain companies” doing business with China, and bans state agencies from contracting with Chinese companies. Texas Scorecard contacted Creighton’s office and asked if his bill would ban the purchase and usage of DJI drones by state and local governments and/or agencies. No response was received before publication.

DJI Drones were also found further west, in Bexar County.

Go West, Young Drone

Texas Scorecard sent the Bexar County sheriff’s office an open records request for records of drone purchases from 2014 to 2022. A 14-page legislative report, dated January 2019 to December 2020, was received. The current sheriff, Javier Salazar (D), began serving in 2017.

That report showed that in 2019, the Democrat-run county had spent more than $24,000 of taxpayer money on DJI drones or accessories.

It also gave a log of the Bexar County sheriff’s office’s usage of drones from January 2019 to December 2020 and, in most cases, the type of information collected. Their uses include training, “Crime Scene Mapping,” “Mapping for Tactical Overview,” “Abandoned Vehicle Search,” and “Exterior Building Inspection.”

They also utilized drones for “Protest Over Watch.” From June 1 to 3 of 2020, drones were used multiple times to observe a protest at the Bexar County Courthouse. They were utilized again to observe an August 28 protest at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center. In both cases, video footage was collected.

The Bexar County sheriff’s office provided another log of drone usage. The time period of these logs ranges from January 1, 2017, to December 31, 2018. According to this log, the majority of drone usage was for training, as well as investigating “Intoxication Assault,” “Failure to Stop & Render Aid – Death,” and a “Fatal Crash.” Usage was also recorded for an inspection of the roof of the sheriff’s jail, and taking photos and video of the academy cadet class.

Texas Scorecard contacted Sheriff Salazar’s office, asking if he was aware of the security threat DJI drones pose and if he still intended to use them. No response was received before publication.

All of these sheriffs should be commended for their transparency on this sensitive matter.

Texas Scorecard had sent an open records request to the Travis County sheriff’s office. Following the example of the opaque Texas Military Department, they appealed our request to Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Texas Scorecard asked Sheriff Sally Hernandez (D) if they use any DJI drones and if they are aware of their national security threat. No response was received before publication.

Fork in the Road

This story started with reflecting on the foolishness of a Nazi soldier buying a lie from French spies. That soldier allowed these spies to gather critical surveillance information that helped lead to a critical Nazi defeat.

On the opposite end, the Nazis were conducting their own surveillance efforts, and the Allies knew they had to counter them. The need for this became practically supreme as they prepared for the liberation of Europe. Allied commanders wanted to trick Hitler into thinking they would land their armies somewhere other than where they planned: Normandy.

To pull that off, Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower assigned the well-known and aggressive General George S. Patton, Jr. to command a fake army. After all, one would assume Patton would naturally be given the top Allied command for the invasion. At least, this was the line of thinking Eisenhower and others counted on.

With excellent skill, the Allies made it look like Patton had a huge force that was going to land at the Pas de Calais in France; in reality, British General Bernard Montgomery was going to lead the real invasion at Normandy, south of Calais.

This massive deception worked. Hitler kept the Nazi army stationed away from Normandy, expecting Patton’s fake army to come at any time. This allowed the Allies to get a foothold in Europe.

Will Texas’ public servants choose to counter the CCP’s surveillance efforts? They could amend the state budget to ban funding of any state or local governments that use DJI drones. Or will they, like the soldier in Operation Biting, buy the CCP’s lie that they’re offering cheap DJI drones for innocuous business purposes? Will they keep using Texan’s taxes to fund those that hate us?

Texas Scorecard asked Gov. Greg Abbott for comment on this situation. No response was received before publication.

This article was updated to correct that Guangdong is the name of the Chinese province DJI is based in, and Shenzhen is the city. 

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.