[Pnews] Daniel Hale Sentenced to 45 Months in Prison for Drone Leak

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Jul 27 18:10:35 EDT 2021

<https://theintercept.com/2021/07/27/daniel-hale-drone-leak-sentencing/> Daniel
Hale Sentenced to 45 Months in Prison for Drone Leak
Ryan Devereaux <https://theintercept.com/staff/ryan-devereaux/>, Murtaza
Hussain <https://theintercept.com/staff/murtaza-hussain/> — July 27, 2021

*Daniel Hale,* a former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst, was sentenced
to 45 months in prison Tuesday after pleading guilty to leaking a trove of
government documents exposing the inner workings and severe civilian costs
of the U.S. military’s drone program. Appearing in an Alexandria, Virginia,
courtroom, the 33-year-old Hale told U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady that
he believed it “was necessary to dispel the lie that drone warfare keeps us
safe, that our lives are worth more than theirs.”

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

In delivering his judgement, O’Grady said that Hale was “not being
prosecuted for speaking out about the drone program killing innocent
people” and that he “could have been a whistleblower … without taking any
of these documents.”

Though the nearly four-year sentence fell short of the maximum sentence of
11 years behind bars sought by federal prosecutors, the conviction marked
another victory for the U.S. government in an ongoing crackdown on national
security leaks that has spanned multiple presidential administrations.

Hale was indicted by a grand jury and arrested in 2019 on a series of
counts related to the unauthorized disclosure of national defense and
intelligence information and the theft of government property. In addition
to documents related to how the government chooses its drone strike targets
— and information detailing how often people who are not the intended
targets of those strikes are nonetheless killed — Hale was also linked to
the release of a secret, though unclassified, rulebook detailing how the
U.S. government places individuals in its sprawling system of watchlists.
Long shrouded in secrecy, the release of the rulebook has been celebrated
by advocacy groups as a triumph of the post-9/11 era.

Since his indictment more than two years ago, government filings have
strongly implied that The Intercept was the recipient of Hale’s
disclosures. In a statement on Tuesday, Intercept Editor-in-Chief Betsy
Reed said, “Daniel Hale will spend years in prison for leaking documents
that the government implied were published by The Intercept. These
documents revealed the truth about the U.S. government’s secretive,
murderous drone war, including that the killing of civilians was far more
widespread than previously acknowledged. The Intercept will not comment on
our sources. But whoever brought the documents in question to light
undoubtedly served a noble public purpose.”

She added: “Hale was also charged with disclosing a secret rule book
detailing the parallel judicial system for watchlisting people and
categorizing them as known or suspected terrorists without needing to prove
they did anything wrong. Under these rules, people, including U.S.
citizens, can be barred from flying or detained in airports and at borders
while being denied the ability to challenge government declarations about
them. The disclosure of the watchlisting rule book led to dozens of legal
actions and important court victories for the protection of civil

As has become standard practice in the U.S., Hale was charged under the
Espionage Act, and he pleaded guilty to one count in March. Under the
highly controversial 1917 law, defendants cannot point to their efforts to
inform the public about government actions and operations as a defense for
leaking classified information. President Barack Obama weaponized the
anti-spying law as a tool to hammer government employees who were sources
for national security stories, particularly those that were unflattering
for the government. The Trump administration continued the practice and
now, so too, has the Biden administration.

“In today’s sentencing, the court did reject the prosecution’s extreme
demands, but Hale’s prison sentence is nonetheless another tragic example
of how the government misuses the Espionage Act to punish alleged
journalistic sources as spies, a practice that damages human rights, press
freedom, and democracy,” Reed added in her statement.

Hale’s support team, in a statement
<https://twitter.com/TeamDanielHale/status/1420059709512593411> following
the sentencing, said: “everyone agrees #DanielHale
<https://twitter.com/hashtag/DanielHale?src=hashtag_click> is not a spy. He
is a deeply honorable man who is being punished simply for acting on his
conscience and telling the truth.”

*Ahead of his* sentencing this week, Hale filed an 11-page handwritten
to the court detailing the motivations behind his actions. In vivid detail,
Hale recalled his own experience locating targets for American drone
strikes. By some estimates, U.S. drone operations abroad, conducted by both
the military and the CIA, have killed between 9,000 and 17,000 people since
2004, including as many as 2,200 children and multiple U.S. citizens. Those
estimates, however, undercount the true cost of remote American warfare —
as Hale noted in his letter to the court last week, the U.S. military has a
practice of labeling all individuals killed in such operations as “enemies
killed in action” unless proven otherwise.

“With drone warfare, sometimes nine out of 10 people killed are innocent,”
Hale said on Tuesday. “You have to kill part of your conscience to do your

In their sentencing filing, Hale’s defense lawyers said that he had “felt
extraordinary guilt for having been complicit in what he viewed as
unjustifiable killings” through his involvement in the drone program and
argued that his disclosures were compelled by a sense of moral duty. In
motions filed in the past week, government prosecutors sought to rebut this
picture, painting Hale as a self-interested egomaniac who risked his
freedom to ingratiate himself with the journalists he admired and compared
his justifications to those of a heroin dealer.

In arguing that Hale should receive a maximum sentence of more than a
decade in prison, the government repeatedly referred to secret evidence —
unavailable for public review — purporting to show that the Islamic State
had circulated Hale’s disclosures online, thus putting American lives at
risk. Harry P. Cooper, a former senior official in the CIA and noted agency
expert on classified materials who reviewed the documents and provided a
declaration in Hale’s case, offered a starkly different interpretation.

“The disclosure of these documents, at the time they were disclosed and
made public, did not present any substantial risk of harm to the United
States or to national security,” Cooper said in a sworn declaration. “In
short, an adversary who has gained a tactical advantage by receiving secret
information would never publicize their possession of it.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg
dismissed that reasoning, arguing that Hale’s case in fact deserved a
harsher sentence than other prior whistleblower cases on the convoluted
basis that, unlike in those cases, it was difficult to substantiate what
harm his disclosures had actually done. “We do not know whether this
information already has been or will be used in the future by terrorists or
other foreign adversaries,” Kromberg wrote. “What we can be sure of is that
Hale’s actions risked damage to the safety and security of Americans in the
past, and will continue to do so in the future.”

“I believe that it is wrong to kill, but it is especially wrong to kill the

The Justice Department also rejected Hale’s argument that he was providing
a public service by revealing information about covert military operations
that had killed civilians. “According to Hale, what he did was legally
wrong but morally right,” prosecutors wrote. “In analogous circumstances,
no one would award such a reduction to a heroin dealer who admitted that he
violated the law by distributing heroin, but simultaneously asserted that
by distributing the heroin he was helping society rather than harming it.”

Hale is a descendant of Nathan Hale, the American patriot who was hanged by
the British for stealing documents in 1776. Addressing the court Tuesday,
Hale quoted the words often attributed to his famed ancestor: “My only
regret is that I have but one life to give to my country, whether here or
in prison.” As he did in the letter he submitted to the court last week,
Hale, in his appearance before the judge, focused his attention on the
victims of U.S. foreign policy.

“I believe that it is wrong to kill,” Hale said, “but it is especially
wrong to kill the defenseless.”
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