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A former intelligence analyst and Afghanistan war veteran was sentenced to nearly four years in prison after he pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act by leaking classified information on the U.S. drone strike program to the media.
Daniel Hale, 33, was arrested in May 2019 for leaking extensively to an unnamed reporter, with charging documents easily identifying him as Jeremy Scahill of the Intercept, an outspoken critic of U.S. military activities overseas. Hale pleaded guilty in March.
U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady sentenced Hale to 45 months in prison on Tuesday. The judge determined that Hale's actions went past his "courageous and principled" stance on drones, according to the Washington Post.
“You are not being prosecuted for speaking out about the drone program killing innocent people,” the judge said. “You could have been a whistleblower … without taking any of these documents.”
Dale, who was employed as a defense contractor for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency at the time he released the documents to a journalist in 2013, printed off 36 documents from his "Top Secret" computer, including 23 documents unrelated to his work at the agency, the Justice Department said in a statement on March 31, 2021. The DOJ said Hale provided at least 17 documents to the reporter or his outlet, and 11 of the records that ended up being published were marked as "Secret" or "Top Secret."
Hale told the court Tuesday that he believes "it is wrong to kill, but it is especially wrong to kill the defenseless" and justified his actions by saying they were "necessary to dispel the lie that drone warfare keeps us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs."
He and his lawyers sought to paint him as a whistleblower trying to bring attention to a wrong, while prosecutors accused him of having selfish intent behind the leaks.
“Hale did not in any way contribute to the public debate about how we fight wars,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg said in court. “All he did was endanger the people who are doing the fighting.”
In arguing for leniency, Hale sent a handwritten letter to judge in July, saying, “I came to believe that the policy of drone assassination was being used to mislead the public that it keep [sic] us safe, and when I finally left the military, still processing what I’d been a part of, I began to speak out, believing my participation in the drone program to have been deeply wrong.”
“The answer came to me, that to stop the circle of violence, I ought to sacrifice my own life and not that of another person. So I contacted an investigative reporter with who I had had an established prior relationship, and told him that I had something the American people needed to know," he added.
The Justice Department tried to throw cold water on this, telling the judge in court filings that Hale should receive as many as 9 to 11 or more years behind bars.
“Daniel Hale abused the trust placed in him by the U.S. government,” the DOJ said. “While enlisted in the United States Air Force, Hale befriended a group of journalists interested in his work on highly classified programs. To ingratiate himself with those journalists, after leaving the Air Force, Hale sought a new position with access to classified information so that he could steal and disclose it to them. Shortly after obtaining a position at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency — which afforded him access to ‘Top Secret’ information — Hale stole classified information and provided it to a particular reporter.”
Prosecutors added: “When Hale took these actions, he knew that his superiors had determined that the disclosure of those documents risked causing serious, and in some cases exceptionally grave, damage to the national security of the United States. In fact, these documents contained specific details that adversaries could use to hamper and defeat actions of the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence community. Indeed, they were of sufficient interest to ISIS for that terrorist organization to further distribute two of those documents in a guidebook for its followers. To curry favor from the reporter, Hale chose to betray the trust of his country and jeopardize U.S. national security.” DOJ said that “a significant sentence is necessary to account for Hale’s brazen conduct."
Hale was in the Air Force from July 2009 to July 2013, during which time he deployed to Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst with the National Security Agency. Hale then worked as a political geography analyst with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency between December 2013 and August 2014.
The day Hale is alleged to have met with the reporter at the reporter’s bookstore event, April 29, 2013, is the same day Scahill held a discussion and signing for his book Dirty Wars at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. The indictment stated that in May 2013, Hale said Scahill “wants me to tell my story about working with drones at the opening screening of his documentary about the war and the use of drones."
Scahill’s book accompanied a 2013 documentary of the same name that was critical of secretive U.S. military operations, including drone warfare. The indictment against Hale stated that he again met the reporter at another book event on June 8, 2013 — the same day Scahill was hosted at Busboys and Poets for another discussion about Dirty Wars. Hale admitted in March that he had anonymously written a chapter in Scahill’s book.
This is not the first time that the Intercept has been involved in a criminal leak case. Reality Winner, a military contractor, was arrested in June 2017 for leaking classified information. The NSA document, which she leaked to the Intercept, was related to alleged Russian efforts to hack into U.S. election systems. The Intercept published a story based on the document and was criticized for failing to protect Winner as a source. In August 2018, Winner was sentenced to over five years in prison.
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Original Author: Mike Brest, Jerry Dunleavy