Daniel Hale Espionage Politico, Leaking National Geospatial Intelligence

An Ex-Intelligence Analyst Is Sentenced for Leaking Information to a Journalist.

The former contractor for the United States admitted to disclosing information about the government's drone warfare program.

A former intelligence contractor sentenced to nearly four years in prison on Tuesday for disclosing details about the American drone warfare program to a reporter.

Daniel E. Hale, 33, was working at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency as a contract employee with a security clearance when he provided documents to a reporter for The Intercept, a news site specializing in intelligence matters.

He was initially charged in 2019 with a variety of offenses, including leaking intelligence and stealing government property. Mr. Hale pleaded guilty in March to the charge of retaining and transmitting national defense information. Mr. Hale was sentenced to 45 months in prison by Judge Liam O'Grady of the United States District Court on Tuesday.

According to court documents, Mr. Hale first communicated with an investigative reporter in 2013, while he was serving in the United States Air Force and assigned to the National Security Agency as an intelligence analyst. Then, in February 2014, he gave classified documents to The Intercept after leaving the Air Force and working as a contractor for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Daniel Hale Espionage Politico, Leaking National Geospatial Intelligence
Daniel Hale attempted to justify his actions in an 11-page handwritten letter to the judge following his guilty plea.

While The Intercept has not confirmed that Mr. Hale was its source, Betsy Reed, the site's editor in chief at the time of his indictment, stated that the documents the site published were of "critical public importance."

“These documents detailed a covert, unaccountable process for targeting and assassinating people around the world, including US citizens, via drone strikes,” she said.

While The Intercept has garnered widespread attention for scoops based on intelligence documents, the government has also tracked down, prosecuted, and imprisoned two of its sources. Along with Mr. Hale's conviction, Reality Winner was sentenced to 63 months in prison for anonymously sending a document to The Intercept. Ms. Winner was released early to a halfway house last month due to her good behavior.

Following his guilty plea, Mr. Hale attempted to justify his actions in an 11-page handwritten letter to the judge. He began by describing the post-traumatic stress disorder and depression he experienced as a result of his Air Force service and 2012 deployment to Afghanistan.

Mr. Hale described in the letter how, while stationed at Bagram Air Base, he would track down the location of cellphones he claimed were in the possession of "so-called enemy combatants." He would then use drones to monitor the targets in order to "document the day-to-day lives of suspected militants."

Mr. Hale wrote that he objected to the fact that armed men of military age in the presence of a tracked combatant were considered acceptable targets when drone operators launched their missiles, killing the assembled group.

“How could it be considered honorable of me to have waited for the next opportunity to murder unsuspecting individuals who, more often than not, posed no threat to me or anyone else at the time?” Mr. Hale wrote.

Mr. Hale became increasingly convinced during his service that the war in Afghanistan had little to do with preventing terrorist attacks in the United States, especially after witnessing children killed inadvertently in failed strikes, he wrote.

Mr. Hale attended antiwar conferences after leaving the Air Force, but accepted a lucrative job offer from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. When friends at the agency began viewing archived footage of drone strikes, his conscience "roared back to life," he explained. He reached out to a reporter in an attempt to break the cycle of violence, he stated in the letter.

Mr. Hale's attorneys stated that the 45-month sentence imposed by the court was excessive for their client to serve, but expressed gratitude that the judge listened to Mr. Hale.

“The bottom line is that Mr. Hale acted against his conscience,” federal public defender Todd M. Richman said in an email. “His disclosures harmed no one but were critical to public safety.”