In 2001, the White House concluded that it was legal to use armed drones to kill senior al-Qaeda leaders. Within weeks of the 9/11 attacks, US President George W Bush signed off on an order which authorised the CIA to capture and kill al-Qaeda operatives. …
For some, drones are the greatest weapon ever to be developed by the CIA; for others, they present a constant, deadly and terrifying threat. …
What happens when you spend hours in a pitch-black room, day after day, shooting at “targets” halfway across the world on a pixelated screen in the hinterland of Nevada?
Why are former pilots speaking out against the drone war and is the US government attempting to silence them? And how do drone operators process killing with a joystick?
Brandon Bryant is a former drone operator and now whistleblower who has spoken out about his role in the CIA’s covert war.
“We’re the ultimate voyeurs, the ultimate ‘peeping Toms’. No one’s going to catch us. And we’re getting orders to take these people’s lives,” Byrant says. “It was just point, and click.”
Few drone operators have spoken out. “It’s so weird … no one else has come out and talked about what they’ve done, or the things that are going on,” Bryant says. “It just blows my mind.”
Since Bryant began talking publicly about being a drone pilot, former friends and colleagues have harassed him. “What the drone community is doing right now is that they’re bashing me,” Bryant says. “They’re ripping me apart to make anyone else fear talking about anything that they’d ever done.”
Michael Haas, another former drone operator, also shares his experiences.
“In the control room they had a picture from September 11… Just to try to make you pissed off about it all over again right before you go do your job,” Haas says. “These guys have to die. These guys deserve to die and you got to make it happen.”
Thousands of kilometers away in the isolated territory of Waziristan in northwestern Pakistan, civilians live under the constant presence of drones, and the threat of yet another attack and the deaths of more innocent family members and friends.
“I think a lot about why they kill us innocent people,” says Zubair Ur Rehman, a young man who survived a drone strike that killed his grandmother while she was chopping vegetables outdoors. “It was a horrible day. It felt like the end of the world.
With further advancements in drone technology, the US government is not likely to cease its drone activity any time soon, instead placing special focus on early recruitment by targeting young gamers.
Video gamers do have a skillset that is very important and enhances the skillset of drone operators. So when I talk to people about this, I say, we don’t need Top Gun pilots – we need Revenge of the Nerds, says Missy Cummings, associate professor of aeronautics at MIT and a former US Navy pilot.
“There’s always been a connection between the world of war and the world of entertainment. And I call this phenomenon ‘militainment’, where the military world is actually now pulling tools from the world of entertainment to do its job better,” says Peter Singer, author of Wired for War. …