US Military Recruits Gamers To Fly Killer Drones

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Former gamers speak of carrying out thousands of killings through the CIA’s Predator drone programme

The US military has been recruiting operators for its Predator drone at gaming fairs using its own specially designed video games as a recruitment tool, according to a new documentary.

The TV show, originally shown in Norway last year and not yet released in the UK, includes interviews with former drone operators, some of whom joined the programme when they were still in their teens.

Predator Drone

Many already had extensive gaming experience, which made it easier for them to learn to control the Predator drones reportedly used by the CIA to carry out targeted killings.

“I had no idea what I was in for….I wasn’t even 20 years old at that point,” said Michael Haas, former drone operator for the US Air Force, in the documentary. “I thought it was the coolest damn thing in the world… play video games all day… You never know who you are killing, because you never actually see a face.”

Brandon Bryant, a former gamer who joined the drone programme at the age of 19 in order to pay his university fees, said he was based at a remote military base in the Nevada desert and flew missions over five years in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Iraq, which he said resulted in more than 1,600 kills.

In an interview with the BBC’s Witness programme last month, he explained that his gaming experience gave him an edge over non-gamer operators in keeping track of the numerous screens used to control the drone.

“The military has invested in creating video games that they are using as recruiting tools,” international relations scholar and political scientist PW Singer said in the documentary.

Targeted killings

The Predator drones, developed in the 1990s, were initially intended as surveillance tools, but after 2001 were armed with Hellfire missiles and other weapons, and are thought to have been used in thousands of targeted killings. Because the programme is under the aegis of the CIA, however, little is known about how it is used.

Many of the young drone operators are left traumatised by their experiences, which may include launching missiles that cause civilian casualties, according tothe documentary. Bryant, for instance, in the BBC interview recalled a strike that he believes resulted in the accidental death of a child, although his superiors claimed it was a dog.

Drones are increasingly expanding into civilian and commercial use, and have become the subject of security and privacy controversies.

The BBC recently admitted two of its journalists were questioned during the Davos economic summit last month after they “mistakenly” flew a drone into a no-fly area, breaching security protocols at a time of heightened tensions following attacks in the Paris area.

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