US Drone Program Whistleblower Explains Why She Spoke Out

Lisa Ling, US Air Force whistleblower who exposed secrets of the American drone program in the documentary National Bird, has been discussing why she decided to blow the whistle, what interests are behind the use of drones, and the outlook given the lack of accountability by the US government.

Edu Montesanti is an independent analyst, researcher and journalist whose work has been published by Truth Out, Pravda, Global Research, Brazilian magazine Caros Amigos and numerous other publications across the globe.

Edu Montesanti: Lisa Ling, thank you so very much for granting this so important interview. When, how and why did you blow the whistle against US drone program ?

Lisa Ling: I blew the whistle on the drone program by going on the record in Sonia Kennebeck’s documentary film National Bird. It wasn’t something I took lightly after spending so many years in the military. I am not against my fellow service members in the U.S., or abroad; I am against policies that can claim lives and limbs of innocent non-combatants even in places we are not at war.

I believe that if it is something where we are unwilling to send troops, and have the public be fully aware of what is being done in our name, than there is something definitely wrong about it that must be addressed. I also believe that governance over such a massive system is important and that discussion and public awareness is the only way that will happen.

I knew I was going to speak out and that I am against weaponized drones, but it wasn’t until Sonia Kennebeck approached me during a veterans conference that I had any idea of how it would be possible for me to speak out. Since the film, I have had numerous opportunities to engage with people and learn how little the public knows about the drone program.

Sonia Kennebeck discovered how little was known or talked about with regard to the military drone program, and that service members who worked in the drone program had actually taken their own lives. She did an enormous amount of preliminary research before making the film; much of her research she showed me after several meetings where we discussed my participation.

Finally after much thought, I said I would do it, and be on the record. It was a difficult decision, but I still believe it was the right one. I have nothing but respect and trust for Sonia and her team for giving me the opportunity to share my story, and most importantly for giving the Afghan victims an opportunity to share their story with the world. That was one thing that really motivated me to participate in the film.

Edu Montesanti: When the Obama administration discussed drone strikes publicly, it offered assurances that such operations are a more precise alternative to boots on the ground and are authorized only when an “imminent” threat is present and there is “near certainty”; that the intended target will be eliminated. How do you see such a “policy”, that of substituting boots on the grounds by drones – in the case of the Obama administration, using it much more than the Bush administration? And how precise are drones?

Lisa Ling: I do not think drones are a good alternative to human intelligence. I do not see how technology, no matter how “good” it is, is an effective replacement for human beings in the current situation. I do not see how a two dimensional image is good enough to replace the situational awareness of trained soldiers on the ground. All lives of innocent human beings require the same reverence; in my view no life of innocent non-combatants is more important than another. Here in the United States, we are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and even then innocent people are imprisoned. That is a much higher standard; one I believe should be met, especially in countries where we are not at war. The people on the ground do not have an ID card, or a driver’s license. Many people in Afghanistan do not know the exact date they were born. It is not always clear who is and who is not an enemy combatant, under these conditions nothing can really be “precise”.

Edu Montesanti: As President Trump is giving the CIA more freedom to attack with drones, things are going to get worse… no?

Lisa Ling: What is needed is human intelligence, and the CIA, I believe, is the organization responsible for gathering it. The intelligence community seems to have lost its way. Instead of studying different cultures or appreciating social and traditional nuances it is depending on technology and quantity of data collected – not quality actionable information.

The data gathering and collecting capacity means nothing if there is too much to actually analyze effectively by those who understand the cultural or traditional implications found in it.

Oversight and governance globally and locally is necessary to keep this immense power in check. This will never happen in the hands of any clandestine organization. It could take years for the public to find out about faults costing thousands of innocent human lives, and the ability to correct any disparity could take decades. Keeping an eye on the proportionality legally required would be exceedingly difficult if it were even possible at all.

The world is now our battlefield; this already violates the Nuremburg principles and other international laws. I do not see how effective governance or oversight is practical or achievable under these conditions.

Edu Montesanti: How do you see the official version in the US government involving drone “efficient” attacks as they actually kill much more civilians?

Lisa Ling: Technology will never replace real situational awareness and without that, how can we know who lives and who dies with any certainty at all. Efficient is an interesting word to use. Wouldn’t “efficient” mean a quick end to these wars? I am not sure how to use the word efficient in the context of wars that have lasted as long as these wars have with no end in sight.

Peace is efficient, and preferable. I assume efficient could mean a clear winner and looser in the context of war, and yet as it stands this doesn’t seem to be where we are. War is not efficient by it’s very nature. Killing other human beings is not a matter of efficiency and relegating human lives to such sanitized terms seems cruel to me.

I do not think armed drones are efficient or proportional when used to seek out individual human beings. I do not think armed drones are efficient or even ethical in this context. Sending Drones is also enabling war to be invisible, there is no weighing it against sending troops so there is less of a connection to it. There is less discussion or assertion because it isn’t publicly announced like it often is when we deploy troops.

It has made a kind of new normal of constant war. There is a dangerous separation that is allowing the wars to continue with very little pushback, no one says send our troops home when fewer and fewer troops are being deployed.

It is easier to send drones without loosing political capital, it makes endless war too easy and we are living with the evidence of this, and more importantly the innocent civilians living under drones are living with it.

Those living under armed drones are living in constant terror. I don’t think we can fight a war on terror with more terror.

Professos Doctor Azadeh Shahshahani of American Civil Liberties Union, observes that: a) In the domestic (US) context, they be used for artistic or investigative purposes. For example, they can be used to investigate agribusinesses to see if they are engaging in animal abuse or not. In that sense, they can play an important and legitimate role. However, their use needs to be regulated to ensure that they are used for surveillance by law enforcement agencies. b) Per international humanitarian law, drones can only be used with bombs in an active armed conflict and even then with certain restrictions including military necessity, humanity, distinction, and proportionality. Only combatants or civilians who are directly participating in hostilities may be targeted. Targeting of other civilians is prohibited and may constitute a war crime. How much the US government is respecting these principles, Lisa, using drones both as surveillance and bombs?

In my view, it is not possible in the absence of ground troops, to know the answer to this question with any certainty. Much of their use is in secret, which is another reason it is hard to be certain.

It is difficult to tell who is and isn’t an enemy combatant. It is not like there is a uniformed opposing military force and the battle lines are clear. This is global and borders don’t seem to matter.

This is why I believe global governance specific to armed and unarmed drones is necessary. I believe drone specific agreements between nation states must be made. I also believe there should not be weapons on drones; I believe that the missiles and bombs should be removed.

Proportionality does not seem attainable when weaponized drones have relegated war to a kind of hunter vs. prey. The truth is that living under drones when you don’t know if and when something is going to come down from the sky and kill you or someone you love is terror by it’s very definition.

Drones have killed people of all ages and professions. No one has respite; they can’t say I am holding an infant so it will not come for me or I am a doctor, it will not attack me. I couldn’t imagine living like that. That is one reason I think the weapons should be removed from drones.

Edu Montesanti: Given all this, why do you think US government and the CIA insist on using drones? What are the real interests behind it?

Lisa Ling: There is a lot of money to be made; there is political expedience when a drone is sent instead of someone’s son or daughter. There are so many possible answers to this question; many are well above my pay grade.

What I know is that these wars are still going on, and that blowback is a thing that happens. Mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers are still dying both at home and overseas. There is still no end in sight to the devastation in countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and all the other places where armed drones fly.

I know that as a nation when we set our collective agency to a goal, we generally achieve it. The global arms trade is a powerful thing. President Dwight D. Eisenhowerfamously warned U.S. citizens about the military–industrial; in his farewell address. Perhaps we are now in the place he warned us about.

That being said, it is time to rearrange our collective priorities to a place where humanity and the sanctity of all human life are at the top of the list. We all must start doing all that we can to ensure that is the case.

Edu Montesanti: How are drones going to affect humanity in the near future, being used this way both in wars and surveillance by the US?

Lisa Ling: We are now at a pivotal point in the use of armed drones. Soon, if not already, drones will be stealth and capable of deployment to developed countries such as our own. Artificial intelligence will be implemented and human intervention will become unnecessary. When this happens, how will the Global West react? Will we choose global governance? Will we change the precedence we are setting by what we do? It is illogical to believe that the use of any military technology will not be used against us at some point in time.

Maybe speaking this truth will get others to engage in the realities of what the future has in store if we leave things as they are. Maybe by acknowledging that weapons have a way of proliferating out of control, things will change. It is not that I believe that lives of people in the Global West are any more valuable than the lives of people from any other place on earth; it is just that if something is happening “over there” we tend to think as if it has nothing to do with us.

How we treat humanity has everything to do with all of us and I believe that is the most important thing we ought to consider when we talk about drones and other military technology. It is true that what goes around comes around, it is just a matter of when.


This article was originally published by teleSUR.

The original source of this article is Global Research
Copyright © Lisa Ling, Global Research, 2017

The Moral Corrosion of Drone Warfare

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publication arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington, DC. He served at the CIA from the administration of John F. Kennedy to that of George H.W. Bush, and was one of five CIA "alumni" who created Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity in January 2003.

Required by court order to appear before a judge in Syracuse, New York, on July 12, some out-of-towners had already arrived there when the court granted the prosecution's last-minute request for more time to prepare its case against us, the Jerry Berrigan Brigade, for our nonviolent witness against drone warfare on Jan. 28, 2016. A trial date is likely to be set in a month or two, or perhaps three (so much for our Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial).

Back in January 2016, we stood behind 30 larger-than-life-sized wooden silhouettes of Syracuse peacemaker Jerry Berrigan, who died at age 95 on July 26, 2015.

A widely loved and respected educator, Jerry -- like his brothers Dan and Phil -- was himself larger than life. Even in his early 90s, Jerry could be seen braving the elements, witnessing against the extrajudicial killings enabled by Hancock drone base in Syracuse.

Jerry was asked at one point if there were anything he would change in his life. "I would have resisted more often and been arrested more often," he said.

On Jan. 28, 2016, we -- the Jerry Berrigan Brigade -- brought images of Jerry to the gates of Hancock as a tangible reminder that this is where he would have been standing that day, putting his body on the line to say a clear, physical "NO" to killing. Jerry's widow and daughter were there with us, cheering us on.

Most Americans are blissfully unaware that, from states-side drone bases like Hancock, drone "pilots" -- with a push of the joystick, a click of a mouse, or simply a keystroke -- can incinerate "suspected terrorists," on the other side of the globe WITHIN THREE SECONDS.

Thanks to a media that is heavily influenced by what Pope Francis (speaking before Congress in 2015) called the "blood-drenched arms traders," it's largely a comfortable case of out-of-sight-out-of-mind. However, the more the killing is hidden, the more we feel a moral imperative to bring the killing out into the open and appeal to the consciences of US citizens -- including those of drone "pilots" many of whom have moral qualms about what they are being ordered to do and end up with bad cases of PTSD.

Many of us protesters -- Catholic Workers and Jewish grandmothers alike -- take our cue from anti-war activist Rabbi Heschel, who braced us all with this admonition: "When injustice takes place, few are guilty, but all are responsible. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself."

Rabbi Heschel got that right. And Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. reassured us that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." But how long and how to make it bend?

Seventeen-plus months since our Jerry Berrigan Brigade witness at Hancock, we cannot avoid wondering just how long it will take for our case to find justice. Nor are we sure what kind of "justice" will befall us. Whatever it is, though, it will be a small price to pay, when one considers the price paid by families who slip into the crosshairs of drone-fired Hellfire missiles.

Some well-meaning soul suggested we consider apologizing -- a notion far from our minds. Were we to issue an apology, it would be patterned on the one given by Jerry Berrigan's brothers Dan and Phil and the others of the Catonsville Nine, who burned draft cards with homemade napalm 50 years ago at the height of the war in Vietnam:

"Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise. For we are sick at heart, our hearts give us no rest for thinking of the Land of Burning Children."

Good Friday Witness, 2017

"Justice" is likely to be meted out more quickly to those of us who decided that Good Friday this year would be a fitting time to honor the memory of innocent victims of Empire, given what happened to Jesus of Nazareth when he challenged Empire. This time nine nonviolent resisters, including from Upstate Drone Action and Catholic Worker, were arrested at the main entrance to Hancock drone base witnessing against Hancock's role in drone killings.

Three hung on large wooden drone crosses representing victims of US drone strikes in seven majority Muslim countries. Eleven others held smaller drone crosses headed by the phrase, "DRONES CRUCIFY," each followed by one of these: Children, Families, Love, Peace, Community, the US Constitution, UN Charter, Rule of Law, US Treaties, Due Process, or Diplomacy (in all, 14 "Stations of the Cross"). All the crosses were confiscated by Base personnel.

Perceiving a need to explain our Good Friday action we issued a statement, that includes the following:

"Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. Recognizing that 70% of our nation identify as Christian, we come to the gates of the Hancock drone base to make real the crucifixion today. As Jesus and others were crucified by the Roman Empire, drones are used by the US Empire in similar fashion.

"In Roman times, crosses loomed over a community to warn people that they could be killed whenever the Empire decided. So, too, our drones fly over many countries threatening extrajudicial killings upon whoever happens to be in the vicinity. On this Good Friday, we recall Jesus' call to love and nonviolence. We're asking this Air Force base and this nation to turn away from a policy of modern-day crucifixion.

"What if our country were constantly being spied upon by drones, with some 'suspected terrorists' killed by drones? What if many bystanders, including children, were killed in the process? If that were happening, we would hope that some people in that attacking country would speak up and try to stop the killing. We're speaking up to try and stop the illegal and immoral drone attacks on countries against which Congress has not declared war."

Several of those arrested on Good Friday, including me, were the same "perps" awaiting trial for the action of our Jerry Berrigan Brigade action a year and a half ago. But the judge hearing this more recent case told us when we appeared before him on July 13 that he will now set a trial date for us Good Friday protesters.

Other Witness Against Drones

Over the last couple of years there have been many protest actions and arrests at one of the most important drone bases -- Creech AFB in Nevada, where many from many parts of the US and abroad have demonstrated against the brutality of drone killing.

Lesser known are actions in other parts of the country to raise awareness of the expansion of drone bases in localities like Des Moines, Iowa. There the Des Moines Catholic Worker and Veterans For Peace have launched a campaign to call attention to the drone assassinations in which the 132nd Wing of the Iowa Air National Guard plays a role from Des Moines airport. There have been several arrests, trials, and convictions.

The July issue of the Des Moines Catholic Worker community newspaper, Via Pacis, carries the words of Frank Cordaro, a Catholic priest, before his latest arrest in late May at the National Guard drone command in Des Moines. Frank reached back to the prophet Ezekiel to address the imperative to "blow the trumpet," saying:

"This protest is an Ezekiel 'Watchman' witness. Ezekiel was a priest of the First Temple and only became a prophet after he was kicked out of Jerusalem and sent into captivity in Babylon. Once there, he started to have visions: 'The Lord said to me, when the Watchman sees the sword coming against the land, he should blow the trumpet to warn the people."

"The Des Moines Catholic Worker community has been a kind of Watchman for the city of Des Moines on the issues of war and peace for the past 40 years. It's probably because we Catholic Workers have been protesting US-led wars for over 80 years nationally and 40 in Des Moines. And it's very personal for me too. I grew up on the south side of Des Moines and this airport is just blocks away from the neighborhood I grew up in."

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