Berlin film 'National Bird' gives whistleblower view of drones

BERLIN (Reuters) - Lisa, a former technical sergeant who worked for a U.S. government data-gathering system, thought the way information was being used for military drone strikes put her “on the right side of history”.

Now, in the documentary “National Bird” shown out of competition at the Berlin Film Festival, she and two other whistleblowers talk about what they see as its dangers.

Lisa thinks the drone program poses a threat not only to civilians killed accidentally in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but to Americans back home as well.

“It’s not just one person sitting there with a little remote control, a little joystick moving around a plane that’s halfway across the world,” Lisa, whose last name and those of the other two are not revealed in director Sonia Kennebeck’s film.

The documentary, co-produced with Errol Morris and Wim Wenders, strongly hints at what Lisa thinks the threat is by showing drone’s eye views of Afghanistan and neighborhoods in the United States.

“This could grow to get so out of control and we’re not the only ones that have this. This is going to be commonplace, if it’s not already,” Lisa says.

Kennebeck said the film had been difficult to make, given the problems other whistleblowers like Edward Snowden have faced. “I wanted ... that everyone involved in my film is safe,” Kennebeck told Reuters.

“We were also very careful with our communication, about publicizing this project. This basically has been a ‘do-not-disclose, do-not-publicize’ project throughout the production.”

The home of a former government intelligence analyst was raided by the FBI during the filming. He continued working with the film, but by the end of filming had dropped out of view.

Heather, a former imagery analyst, is so distraught about what she saw while dealing with military drone strikes that she wants a diagnosis from the U.S. Veterans’ Administration to let her to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Kennebeck traveled with Lisa to Afghanistan to meet victims of an infamous strike involving drone surveillance in 2010 that killed 23 civilians, including women and children.

The then commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, apologized for the attack. Kennebeck said the survivors traveled for three days to meet her.

Kennebeck does not get drawn into a debate about drones, but like the Afghan survivors, she hopes her film will wake up the world to the growth of drone warfare.

“As a society, as a global community, we have to think very carefully if this is what we want,” she said.

Reporting and writing by Michael Roddy; Editing by Tom Heneghan