Director Sonia Kennebeck examines the U.S. drone program in her documentary, “National Bird”. She looks at it as a harrowing experience of those who live in foreign areas where drone surveillance and attacks take place, as well as through interviews with U.S. servicemen and servicewomen who actually control and monitor the drones.
“National Bird” follows three people who were in the U.S. Air Force and worked in various capacities regarding the targeting and killing of insurgents. All three now regret their experience. The film finds nothing positive or effective about using drones. It also slowly and persuasively builds its case as it describes the effects of the Americans who were in the program and the civilian Afghans who were mistakenly bombed. By contrasting the war’s effect on members of both groups, it shows a symbiosis between the two cultures with no end in sight.
What we really get here is a profile of three whistleblowers that are very critical of America’s secret drone program. Each of the three former gung-ho Air Force veterans were attracted to the adventure and service to America and each has become a whistle-blower after having worked in the drones program gathering intelligence and following targets to be killed.
Heather is a troubled young woman who battles PTSD and is very critical of what she sees as the total indifference of the military to the trauma suffered by drone program participants who day-by-day watched bodies being blown to bits. The reenactment of a strike where 23 civilians were taken down graphically illustrates the horror of this messed-up operation.
Daniel enlisted to avoid homelessness and was assigned to a top-secret drone-related operation with the National Security Agency at Fort Meade. His anti-war activities brought a raid by the FBI on his home. He contacted Jesselyn Radack to counsel him and since has gone into hiding and no one has any idea where he is at present.
Lisa is a former drone system technical sergeant who is shocked when she receives a letter saluting her war efforts of helping to identify 121,000 insurgent targets over a two-year period. In order to make amends, she joined a neighbor on a mission of mercy trip to Afghanistan. Lisa met a family who lost loved ones in a mistargeted drone attack. The dignity of these Muslims is a far cry from the barbarity of the drone operators in the reenacted segment.
President Obama’s speeches where he claims that the drone program has been able to kill insurgents without harming civilians is simply not the case. Here we get a fascinating discussion of our secret military drone program.