April 10, 2017 — Drone warfare is one of the most controversial current affairs issues of our time. For some people it is a highly effective weapon, for others a tool of terror.
Sonia Kennebeck‘s provocative film, National Bird, looks at the issues raised by this new form of warfare from a different perspective – that of the people directly impacted by the drone war. For the first time, this film follows three veterans who worked in the secret U.S. drone program, and connects their stories to the accounts of Afghan survivors of an airstrike gone wrong.
These three veterans – Daniel, Lisa, and Heather – were involved in a long-distance war overseas and are now speaking out about their personal experiences working within this top secret program.
Daniel, a former Intelligence Analyst, U.S. Air Force, joined the military for practical reasons – as a way out of homelessness. He was assigned to a top-secret post in Afghanistan where his job was to track down high-value targets for drone attacks. “The most disturbing thing about my involvement in drones is the uncertainty if anybody that I was involved in ‘kill or capture’ was a civilian or not. There’s no way of knowing,” says Daniel. He becomes an anti-war activist, an action that puts his very freedom in jeopardy.
Lisa was a Technical Sergeant with over 16 years of military experience when she was sent to an Air Force base in the U.S.. There she was responsible for the maintenance and security of the DGS, the large weapons system behind the drones. Her experience made her fearful of how this technology was being used and how it would be used in the future. “It’s like borders don’t matter anymore, and there is a huge system that spans the globe that can just suck up endless amounts of your life, your personal data. I mean this could grow to get so out of control, and we’re not the only ones that have this. This is gonna be commonplace, if it’s not already.”
Her participation on a weapons system that potentially reigned terror overseas led her to want to see what was really happening first hand – she travels to Afghanistan to hear from civilian victims of a U.S. airstrike.
Heather was just 20 years old when she became an imagery analyst for the U.S. Air Force drone program. Her job was to identify targets for drone attacks and assess the destruction after the strikes. The job was emotionally grueling. “Sometimes if I couldn’t really get out of the situation for very long, I would just go to the bathroom and just sit on the toilet, like just sit there in my uniform and just like cry and just think about like what I was doing.” She was on a suicide watch list during that time, but the military still refused to let her transfer to a less stressful job. She knows numerous other analysts who are now battling addictions and depression. And she had difficulty finding a therapist to help her get through — few have a high-enough security clearance to be allowed to hear her issues.
All three have chosen to speak out against the drone war, despite the possible consequences.