Drone warfare whistleblower - Lisa Ling

It's late September 2019 and we're halfway through writing the book of courage when I meet Lisa Ling for the first time. She's from California. So it's middle of the night in the Netherlands when we talk through the internet with Bailey from Canada and Raymond from Norway.

What followed was a cheerful chat with mostly them joking about me not knowing the first thing about drone warfare and drone whistleblowers. Yet. Lisa suggested I should start by WTDMF (watch the damn movie first) meaning the 2016 documentary 'National Bird' which tells the tale of hers and two other drone whistleblowers. She said also that when I read up on her story preparing for the interview, I should make sure to type 'lisa ling drones' in my search engine, rather than just her name so as to avoid getting results of the presenter journalist by the same name.

I watched that documentary and I'd recommend you do to, if you can find a copy.

Watching it felt unhinged, like watching the Trade Center collapse. I imagine it's the feeling you get when you see the sea withdraw before tsunami. You know you're not impacted -yet- but something changed that cannot be undone. Like with a phase change. Like how you can carve wood, create stuff or break it but it's still wood until you set it on fire. That's when you've irreversibly phase changed it. '911 changed the world like fire changes wood.

Drones are unmanned aircraft. Put a camera on them and their application is near endless.

Add a weapon and you've phase changed war.

Barack Obama is called the drone-war president. I remember cheering him on too when he was just elected, on the Washington Mall with my musical heroes playing and for a while it was a change I believed in. He joked about the drone-president nickname he got at the correspondence dinner a year later.

Before the Potkaars podcasts started late 2018, I created a leader videoclip for it that had the Dutch National anthem played Jimi Hendrix Star Sprangled Banner style, with soundbytes mixed through it that defined some of those phase changing moments. President Bush's 'every nation and every region, now has a decision to make' is followed by Obama making that joke about predator drones and how you would never see them coming. You know how some of the best jokes are funny because they are true? That's why you remember them sometimes. I figured the best way to tell truth is to do so cheerfully too where ever possible, so when I talk about our book of courage in the making, I describe it as a collection of the signature whistleblowers stories told in a friendly way. Watching that documentary made me realise writing this book about courage to become a happy one is going to be a challenge.

Weaponised drones with cameras remove two restraints that have been part of armed conflict since bow and arrow. One is that the person shooting is no longer in danger of being hit themself. Two; the commander in chief, like a US President, does not have to worry about battlefield casualties and all the negative press that goes with that.

Drone warfare removed checks and balances from armed conflict. I wonder with what we replaced them with.

Lisa Ling is a former technical sergeant on drone surveillance systems. She worked on a distributed ground system that spans the globe and eats massive amounts of data (National Bird, 2016). I've WTDMF and done all the prepping for the interview I need. I sent this introductory part to Lisa and scheduled a date to do the interview on.

We record october 3rd 2019 3am.

Lisa tells her story and we talk about the drone program. How that started, how it works and why people working them end up with PTSD and/or killing themselves. Lisa went to Afghanistan after she left the air force and tells about that. We talk about the Trump Whistleblower now in the news and earlier whistleblowers like Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou, Edward Snowden, Reality Winner and Chelsea Manning.

People working the drone program leave their daytime job to go to the supermarket too. Lisa talks about her search for redemption after blowing the whistle. About how the rules of war have changed and how the war on terror that started under the Bush administration is now exporting terror instead of fighting it.

We talk about the Trump Whistleblower in the news and earlier whistleblowers like Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou, Edward Snowden, Reality Winner and Chelsea Manning. How transparancy and accountability may win yet, now our separation of powers and the fourth estate are loosing. It's back to 'we the people' all over again.


Lisa Ling joined the military in 1991, serving as an army medic and nurse before transferring to the Air National Guard (ANG). In the ANG, she became a communications technician working on various types of electronic equipment including DCGS.  Besides her overseas deployments, Lisa was mobilized, during a partial unit mobilization of the 234th intelligence Squadron to the 48th Intelligence Squadron at Beale Air Force Base from Oct 2007-Sep 2009. The 48th Intelligence Squadron provides in-garrison and deployed communications and logistics maintenance for the DCGS (Distributed Common Ground System). She served 6 years on active duty and over 14 years as both active and inactive National Guard. She decided to speak out after traveling to Afghanistan and seeing for herself how what she participated in was not a war on terror, but a war of terror. She was one of three protagonists from the drone program in the documentary film National Bird directed by Sonia Kennebeck. (https://re-publica.com/en/member/11421 )

work is war

Imagine going to work
Imagine work means observing targets
Imagine you know the target list to contain errors
Imagine the imagery is insufficient to make the call
Imagine your work is to make that call
Imagine you know for a fact your call is sometimes wrong

Imagine coming home from work
Imagine in line after work at the supermarket
Imagine the person in front of you is complaining

that they missed their tv show

Imagine they ask

how was work?