Former US drone operator to get German whistleblower award

Former U.S. Air Force drone sensor operator Brandon Bryant is receiving a whistleblower award in Germany for information he provided about Ramstein Air Base's alleged role in U.S. drone operations.


By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 15, 2015

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — A former U.S. Air Force drone sensor operator, who spoke to German media about Ramstein Air Base’s alleged role in the U.S. drone war, is one of two people being honored Friday with a biennial “whistleblower award” in Germany.

Brandon Bryant and French molecular biologist Gilles-Eric Seralini, whose research showed the popular herbicide Roundup to be toxic to animals, will each receive a prize of 3,000 euros from the Federation of German Scientists and the German Section of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms. The awards were to be presented at a ceremony Friday in Karlsruhe.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden received the award in 2013 for exposing the National Security Agency’s mass monitoring of domestic and international communications data.

Bryant’s disclosures haven’t chilled U.S.-German relations as much as Snowden’s did. But the information he shared with German media has sharpened criticism in Germany and elsewhere about the legality and human cost of U.S. drone strikes. They also have renewed debate about whether Germany is violating its own constitution by hosting the air base in Ramstein.

Bryant alleged that the technology used at Ramstein transfers the data between drone pilots in the United States to their remotely operated aircraft flown for U.S. military and CIA missions in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa.

Bryant was one of the first people to reveal to Germans the extent of Ramstein’s alleged involvement in the U.S. drone program, said Dieter Deiseroth, a retired federal German judge and a member of the whistleblower award’s jury.

“The German government always tells the public that the air base in Ramstein doesn’t play a role, that the main decision is made in the United States and there’s no form of control in Germany,” Deiseroth said. “But according to the revelations of Mr. Bryant, it’s more complicated.”

For his part, Bryant, who spent about six years on active duty, said he confirmed and clarified information about Ramstein from intelligence documents that had already been leaked by other sources to the media.

Maj. Sheryll Klinkel, a spokeswoman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe-U.S. Air Forces Africa, said Bryant’s statements have not been damaging “to anything in USAFE.”

Military officials at Ramstein have emphasized that no Ramstein facilities are used to directly fly or control any remotely piloted aircraft.

“We’re always working closely with our host nation,” Klinkel said. “If there is an issue, we address that and work through that.”

While embraced in Germany, Bryant has been largely vilified by the U.S. drone community, he said, for a 2012 interview he gave to Germany’s Der Spiegel news magazine about his life as a drone operator. It told of his struggles in a work environment that he said celebrated the killing of humans as though they were video game targets.

“Getting this award means there is the possibility for other people to see America does have good people in our country,” Bryant said.