Drone Whistleblower Daniel Hale’s Guilty Plea

Prosecuting journalists’ sources as spies under the Espionage Act chills news-gathering and hurts the public interest, press-freedom advocates warn. 

Daniel Hale at peace protest outside White House in undated photo. (DIY Roots Action website)

By Brett Wilkins
Common Dreams

Press-freedom, peace and human-rights advocates are rallying behind Daniel Hale, the former intelligence analyst who blew the whistle on the U.S. government’s drone assassination program, and who pleaded guilty last week in federal court to violating the Espionage Act.

The Washington Post reports Hale, who was set to go on trial this week, pleaded guilty to a single count of violating the 1917 law that has been used to target WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange and whistleblowers John KiriakouChelsea ManningEdward SnowdenJeffrey SterlingReality Winner and others. 

Hale was charged in 2019 during the Trump administration after he leaked classified information on the U.S. government’s targeted assassination program to a reporter, who according to court documents, matches the description of The Intercept founding editor Jeremy Scahill. He is the first person to face sentencing for an Espionage Act offense during the administration of President Joe Biden. 

As vice president under President Barack Obama, Biden contributed to the creation of whistleblower protections in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, while simultaneously serving in an administration that, while promising “a new era of open government,” relentlessly targeted individuals who revealed U.S. war crimes and other classified information. 

Kiriakou — a former CIA agent who under Obama was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment for exposing U.S. torture — told Kevin Gosztola that he is “disappointed that Daniel Hale’s case was continued in the Biden Justice Department.”

“I had hopes that Biden’s Justice Department appointee would recognize the public service that Daniel Hale provided when he revealed illegality and abuse in the drone program,” said Kiriakou. 

Intelligence Analyst 

Hale, who was an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Air Force before moving on to the National Security Agency and then the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, “knowingly took highly classified documents and disclosed them without authorization, thereby violating his solemn obligations to our country,” according to a statement from Raj Parekh, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

According to Gosztola, Hale’s whistleblowing led to the revelation by The Intercept that “nearly half of the people on the U.S. government’s widely shared database of terrorist suspects are not connected to any known terrorist group,” details on how the Obama administration approved targeted assassinations and information about Bilal el-Berjawi, a Briton “who was stripped of his citizenship before being killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2012.” 

The Post reports that Hale admitted in court to writing an anonymous chapter in Scahill’s 2016 book, The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Programwhich divulged information taken from top-secret documents about drone strike protocols, civilian casualties, and Pentagon officials’ debate about the accuracy of intelligence.

“These documents detailed a secret, unaccountable process for targeting and killing people around the world, including U.S. citizens, through drone strikes,” Betsy Reed, editor-in-chief of The Interceptsaid after Hale’s indictment. “They are of vital public importance, and activity related to their disclosure is protected by the First Amendment.”

Hale had initially centered his defense on First Amendment grounds, and his numerous defenders condemned his prosecution as a violation of press freedom and freedom of speech. His lawyer, Jesselyn Radack, issued a statement saying “the U.S. government’s policy of punishing people who provide journalists with information in the public interest is a profound threat to free speech, free press, and a healthy democracy.”

“Classified information is published in the press every day; in fact, the biggest leaker of classified information is the U.S. government,” wrote Radack. “However, the Espionage Act is used uniquely to punish those sources who give journalists information that embarrasses the government or exposes its lies.”

“Every whistleblower jailed under the Espionage Act is a threat to the work of national security journalists and the sources they rely upon to hold the government accountable,” she added. 

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the women-led peace group CodePink, tweeted that it’s “outrageous that drone whistleblower Daniel Hale will be going to prison for exposing the drone murders by the U.S. military. Why don’t the murderers go to jail? Or the ones who ok the murders? Or the ones who make the killer drones and profit from murder?”

Hale’s sentencing is scheduled for July 13. He faces up to 10 years behind bars. Kiriakou told Gosztola that he hopes the judge “recognizes the good in what Daniel Hale has done and gives him the lightest possible sentence.”

This article is from Common Dreams.

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11 comments for “Drone Whistleblower Daniel Hale’s Guilty Plea

  1. April 7, 2021 at 20:40

    Hale is a hero, but in the US “justice” system, the good guys are criminals, and the thugs (police, prosecutors, judges)are the so-called good guys, authority. I have also experienced this. It is a sad day when the freedom of speech, the advocacy to uphold the law, the whistle blowers, are seen as the enemy. When a power considers things that are brought to the light to be criminal, not because they have caused harm, but because they have been exposed, that is a sure sign that the power is evil. It is so blatant now, if anybody in the entire planet does not perceive that the legal system, the media, the governors, and the education system has been hijacked by evil entities who rule and control by means of leveraging money and power, they are damn stupid. Anybody with at least half a brain should have perceived this by now. The governors are basically not hiding behind the facade of justice, righteousness, deceptions, manipulations and other tactics employed for many decades, and are showing their true colors. At least this is more honest.

    • April 8, 2021 at 06:58

      Right on target Michael. I have experienced the same thing and I see that it has only gotten worse over the past 4 decades. There is no justice in the justice system. It is organized crime writ large. Thank you for pointing it out, Jack.

  2. scanalyse
    April 7, 2021 at 19:41

    Petition; hXXps://rightsanddissent.salsalabs.org/danielhaleleniency/index.html Leniency for whistleblower Daniel Hale

    Please sign. It might help.

    “Petition to Judge O’Grady

    Dear Judge O’Grady,
    We, the undersigned, respectfully ask for leniency for Daniel Hale.

    Although he pled guilty to one count of “retention and transmission of national defense information” in violation of the Espionage Act , Daniel Hale is not a spy. On the contrary, his actions were patriotic and served democracy and the American people.

    Because of his courage the public now better understands the decision-making process for US targeted killings and that nearly 90% of those killed by drone strikes were not the intended target. These are matters of great national interest.

    We ask you to consider that Daniel Hale’s actions were actions of conscience and public service, and grant him leniency.”

  3. Skip Mooney
    April 7, 2021 at 19:24

    Non-Disclosure documents need to be honored if you signed them and it was witnessed.

    • April 8, 2021 at 07:04

      True but only if the agreement is to protect the Constitution and not the institution and its crimes. In all the whistle blower cases the government engaged in crimes and no one who takes the oath signed on for this. When Snowden and all the rest of the whistle blowers signed their agreements they had no idea that the agencies would be engaged in war crimes! So I say no to the blind trust just because it was signed and is witnessed it becomes criminal!

  4. April 7, 2021 at 16:29

    I expected nothing else from biden.he continues the tradition of our leaders whether USA, UK, or Australia spearheading treason. Our governments have traitors as leaders

  5. Susan Leslie
    April 7, 2021 at 16:06

    It isn’t the whistleblowers who should be punished – it is those in our federal government and MIC committing the actual crimes who need to be thrown in jail!

  6. rosemerry
    April 7, 2021 at 15:30

    As always,those who expose the crimes, not those who commit them, are punished . That is the American way, under either Party, and the public has no right to know about what its leaders decide and do-that is democracy, US style.

  7. Antiwar7
    April 7, 2021 at 12:41

    Yup, the US government is evil to the core.

  8. evelync
    April 7, 2021 at 12:39

    It’s painful to see, once again another person of conscience, Daniel Hale, cruelly punished for having the strength of character to stand up for what’s right – telling us the truth about what’s being done in our name with our tax dollars.

    Everybody knows that these indiscriminate drone strikes would be ruled illegal and criminal in any other world except one where one and only one country is so powerful (as Noam Chomsky has opined wrt what we can get away with) that it is beyond the reach of the rule of law and criminal justice.

    It is so criminal in fact that it takes a cruel toll not only on those killed and their families but also a terrible toll on those we task to pull the remote triggers and their families too.

    The movie “Leave No Trace” should be required viewing for our elected officials to understand the cruelty we impose on our military veterans come home suffering from PTSD, some of them having been tasked to execute the drone strikes.
    In this film based on a true story,, a military veteran father with post-traumatic stress disorder lives in the forest with his young daughter. The depth of his suffering takes its toll also on his child.
    There’s no recovery for those who suffer from what our dead end policies inflict.
    Responsible statecraft takes a back seat to the endless bombing and droning.

    A normal economy would invest in machinery that’s productive, having a life perhaps of 30 years while creating wealth for its people. Our war economy invest in machinery that’s thrown down a black hole continually replenished with our misdirected tax dollars.
    The profiteers drive the narrative to build their order books.

    How much punishment should our MIC impose on the world and on its own citizens before someone has the strength of character to see what we are doing and to what end? Has any good at all come out of any of it or does it all end in chaos?

  9. Alex Cox
    April 7, 2021 at 11:17

    How did the unfortunate whistle-blower come to be identified? Did the Intercept give away its source to the authorities, as it did with Reality Winner?

Comments are closed.