Former US drone operator Brandon Bryant (photo: Democracy Now!/You Tube)
As a parliamentary inquiry in Berlin explores Germany’s role in America’s drone wars, former drone operator Brandon Bryant tells the Bureau about what he saw of it during his time with the Air Force.
Bryant, who himself gave testimony to the inquiry today, said that drone operators in the US would interact with Ramstein Air Force base in Germany throughout the mission.
“It was a constant communication, before every mission after every mission and every time signal strength was weak or we might lose signal strength we’d always have to call Ramstein Air Force Base for troubleshooting,” he told the Bureau.
“They were the ones that handled all of our…feeds, and they were the ones that assigned us specific codes where we would connect to the relay.”
Ramstein is a well-known US base, but until recently little was known about its role in supporting drone operations. Earlier this year, the Intercept and Spiegel reported on the existence of classified documents adding further weight to allegations that Ramstein plays a vital role in relaying the satellite signal from the machines flying over the Middle East to pilots and analysts in the US. In May, three Yemeni plaintiffs who lost relatives in a drone strike brought a court case against the German government, though the judge dismissed it.
The Bundestag committee’s inquiry was originally set up in the wake of revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the extent of US surveillance activities worldwide, including in Germany.
As Bryant sees it, the stakes for the German government are high.
“Ramstein is enabling us to fly in countries where there is no declared warzone as well as declared warzones,” he said. “What does that it mean for us as a country, what does it mean for the German people as a country? Because if they accept the fact that we have used drones in illegal warzones and that’s ok then that makes them complicit in all the strikes we’ve messed up.”