Brett Velicovich is a drone expert, former U.S. Army intelligence, founder of the African Eye Project and author of “Drone Warrior: An Elite Soldier's Inside Account of the Hunt for America's Most Dangerous Enemies.” Tonight at 7 p.m. at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Velicovich will discuss his book, his experiences in war and his advocacy work with drone technology.
Tell us about your book, “Drone Warrior.” What was it like reflecting on your experiences to write this account?
I found it very difficult to write about myself, to go back and relive all the things I experienced. I found peace, though, in knowing that my experiences will help a new generation of war fighters and show just how important drone technology is to the warfighter. Even though my story is about drone warfare and how we went about hunting down some of the most evil people on the planet in groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, it's really about a generation at war. It's a coming-of-age story disguised as a war novel.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about drone technology and its applications?
There tends to be this narrative in the media that drones are just up there killing at random and that there is no accountability as to why strikes happen. I would argue that the small-elite groups in both the special operations and intelligence community are often more accountable than most people will ever know. I often get asked “how many terrorists did you kill?” or how many civilians were killed. I'm rarely asked, “how many lives did you save?” Every person involved in this work has America's best interests at heart, and they do it because they want to save lives in the process.
What does it mean to you to be speaking about your experiences at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum?
I joined the U.S. Army right after 9/11. For me, it upended the entire way that I saw the world. I was a college freshman at the time at the University of Houston, and I remember thinking how little I truly knew. For weeks after that I spent trying to understand terrorism, why people we barely knew hated our country so much. I wanted to give back to the country, to go after those who harmed us, and it was that event which called me to serve. I grew up at war, it's all I really knew. Thousands of other soldiers did the same thing after 9/11, I'm fortunate enough to be able to tell my story about it. Never thought in a million years though that I would have been given the opportunity to speak here and share my experiences with others.
What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?
My main focus now is on my humanitarian drone projects, using "drones for good." We have a project called the African Eye, where we are adapting some of the same drone technology I used for war to do wildlife conservation and anti-poaching operations in Africa. Drone technology has come a long way. It doesn't have only be used as a tool for war, so I have dedicated the rest of my life to showing how this technology can also save lives in other ways in the humanitarian space.
By 9/11 Memorial Staff