Q: How did you end up in the drone program?
Brandon: I originally joined to be a SERE instructor (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape). But the Air Force had other designs for me once I completed the military aptitude test. They decided that they wanted to fast track me into Intelligence, gave me this big story about James Bond and Top Secret bullshit. Of course at 19 years old I’m going to fall for it. After Imagery Intelligence School they drafted me into Drones and I had no idea what I was getting into. I don’t think any of us did, really.
Q:What was the evolution of your outlook on participating in the Air Force drone program?
Brandon: At first I thought it was the coolest thing that I could have ever done. It was a combination of my favorite things, warriorship and technology. But then they put us into a theater and showed us a montage video of drone strikes and at the end they told us that our only job is to kill people and break things. It went against everything that I had ever learned about honor and justice and training. It was terrifying how dismissive people were about the whole affair. We were safe in the U.S. and those over there were not. We win. But that’s not how it goes.
It broke my spirit. It went against everything I learned about being a warrior, about holding yourself to higher standards. My superiors psychologically beat me and ridiculed me to keep me in line. They took away my free time and forced me to sit in a seat or be tried under the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) for disobeying orders. In a sense, it was my prison. I served my time to learn and reflect. And so I hold the key now, to the entire apparatus. I just don’t know what to do with it.
Q: How would you describe what it was like to go public with your opposition to military drones?
Brandon: For me it was an easy decision. I saw the information that was being spread through the media and the misconceptions that have been applied to it. Really, those who would excuse it as just and reasonable when I knew the truth, forced my hand because I couldn’t stand all the lies. We were damaging our own troops’ psyches on a monumental scale just for a few statistical numbers of what we labeled as enemies. The whole thing is psychopathy and needs somebody with strong character and convictions to stand up against. I just so happened to be that person.
Q:Is it accurate to say that you were the first drone whistleblower in the U.S. military?
Brandon: Yeah, and the funny thing is that all the stuff that I’m saying now, is the same shit I would tell my superiors when I was in the program. They used to tell us that if a problem arises handle it at the lowest possible rank, don’t escalate it. Well I did that. I would talk to my peers, and they agreed that it was fucked up but they all drank the kool-aid.
I would talk to my superiors and they would hammer me for questioning their authority, even if I had rhyme and reason due to law and regulations, etc. I went to their superiors, and I got the shit piled on me. I got days off taken away, breaks missed, extra duties assigned. All to break my spirit to be who they wanted me to be without question.
Q: What stands out in your memories of the years since you began to speak out as a drone whistleblower?
Brandon: There are a few instances. I once had a guy rap out lyrics he made about me right before I got my Whistleblower award back in 2015. He put some heart into it, and I knew that I had inspired him. I think that is what always stands out. When you see in somebody’s eyes that what you did was meaningful, not just in what I’ve done, but in the representation of myself and my beliefs, and encouraging them to pursue that too. In all the times of ugliness I’ve seen those few specks of beauty stand out to me.
Q:What would you most want people to know about the U.S. Air Force drone program?
Brandon: I would want people to know, beyond its existence, the consequences it has on us as a species to delineate our power into something so easily destructive. Every time we get closer to that edge, we’re going to have to realize where it places us. How do our enemies view us? How do our friends? If we are all quiet with our souls in the darkest part of the night can we sleep soundly, or will the echoes of our actions stir our nightmares into being? These questions need to be asked. There is no getting around them. With how easily this technology can be abused, we need to ask ourselves the hardest and most difficult questions we can. That is the only way that a balance can be struck.
Q:Please describe some of the main challenges you’ve faced since you became a drone whistleblower?
Brandon: Most of the challenges I’ve faced have come from unpredictable sources. I had thought that my peers would stand with me and I ended up standing alone. I had thought my family would stand with me but it was only my mother who really has. I’ve had strangers be kinder to me than people I’ve known my whole life. I’ve had my own life threatened because of my own questioning of my actions and the integrity and honor behind them. That was a strange one, because people kept telling me that I should be okay with what I’ve done, that I did it to serve my country and to protect people. When I told them that’s not how I’ve seen it when I reflect upon it, I’ve had my own countrymen physically threaten me. And even opposition from my government was surprising, because I had once believed that we stood for Liberty and Justice for all.
So I would say that the main challenge that I’ve faced is the crumbling of everything that I had once believed to be solid and true, and finding what is solid and true inside me to stand firmly on.
Q: As a recipient of the Drone Whistleblower Fellowship from the RootsAction Education Fund, how is the fellowship helpful to you?
Brandon: The fellowship is helpful for me to have the freedom to spread my message and to help others become aware of their own actions through the lessons that I’ve learned. If I am the one to spread goodwill and peace in order to make reparations for what I have done in the military — and others are willing to support it — that is something that I can put my heart and soul behind and be eternally grateful towards. Thank you.