US Imprisons Drone Whistleblower

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An intelligence analyst who illegally obtained classified US government documents on drone warfare and leaked them to a journalist has been sentenced to prison.

Daniel Everette Hale met the reporter in April 2013 while attending an event in a bookstore in Washington DC. 

In 2014, while working as a cleared defense contractor at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), Hale printed six classified documents, all of which were later published by a news outlet.

Hale later printed 36 documents from his Top Secret-clearance computer, including 23 documents unrelated to his work at the NGA, and gave 17 of them to the journalist to publish. Among the 17 were 11 documents marked as Secret or Top Secret.

In 2019, 33-year-old Nashville resident Hale was indicted on five charges relating to the data leak. The news outlet was not identified by prosecutors, but the leaked files described in court records appear to match documents published by the Intercept.

The leaked information exposed the civilian costs of the US military's drone program, which was ramped up to new heights under President Barack Obama. During his presidency, Obama authorized 542 drone strikes that killed an estimated 3,797 people, including 324 civilians.

Hale pleaded guilty on March 31 to retention and transmission of national defense information. He admitted to communicating with the reporter via phone, text message, email and encrypted messaging platform Jabber, and to meeting with the reporter in person on multiple occasions.

Hale served as an enlisted airman in the US Air Force from 2009 to 2013 before receiving language and intelligence training and being assigned to work at the National Security Agency and deployed to Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst.

At his sentencing on July 27, Hale said it “was necessary to dispel the lie that drone warfare keeps us safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs.”

Before sentencing Hale to serve 45 months in prison, US District Judge Liam O'Grady told the analyst that he “could have been a whistleblower … without taking any of these documents.”

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said, "Using the Espionage Act in this way to prosecute journalists’ sources as spies chills newsgathering and discourages sources from coming forward with information in the public interest."

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