September 24, 2021

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Ex-Airman Who Leaked Secrets of America’s Drone War Gets 45 Months in Prison

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Photo: Ethan Miller (Getty Images)

A whistleblower who leaked top secret information about America’s drone warfare program has been sentenced to 45 months in federal prison.

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Daniel Hale, 33, who formerly worked as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Air Force, pled guilty in March to retaining and transmitting national defense information. He was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. by Judge Liam O’Grady on Tuesday.

In 2014, Hale leaked more than 150 pages of classified material to a journalist, revealing details about the government’s unmanned aerial vehicle operations. Hale took the documents from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, where he was working as a contractor at the time.

While it has never been officially admitted, Politico reports that “details about Hale’s activities and the records he leaked make clear that the reporter was Jeremy Scahill of the Intercept.” Documents that Hale leaked were subsequently cited in The Drone Papers, an investigation by the outlet into the government’s activities. Scahill also wrote a book about drone warfare, in which he elaborated on the findings. Hale later said that guilt over his own participation in drone strikes overseas had compelled him to come forward with the information.

Charging Hale under the Espionage Act, federal prosecutors had previously sought a maximum punishment for him—which would’ve netted him 11 years behind bars.

Politico writes that Hale appeared “choked up” through parts of Tuesday’s judicial proceedings but showed “no remorse about his disclosures.” Instead, he expressed regret about having played a part in America’s drone program.

“I am here because I stole something that was never mine to take—precious human life. For that, I was compensated and given a medal,” Hale said. “I couldn’t keep living in a world in which people pretended that things weren’t happening that were. Please your honor, forgive me for taking papers instead of human lives.”

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Throughout both the Obama and Trump administrations, the government has proceeded to ramp up an aggressive crackdown on whistleblowers—seeking to impose ever harsher punishments for government operatives who disclose classified information to reporters. As example, NSA whistleblower Reality Winner was recently released from prison, after serving a majority of a 63-month sentence for leaking classified information about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

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