On July 27, Daniel Hale received a prison sentence of 45 months “followed by three years of supervised release,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). On March 31, Hale pleaded guilty to “illegally obtaining classified national defense information and disclosing it to a reporter.”
Hale served in the Air Force from 2009 to 2013, according to previous WNN reporting. He later “deployed to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in 2012 and was honorably discharged the following year,” AP News reports. After his service, Hale worked at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) as a defense contractor, and the DOJ alleges that Hale “began communicating with a reporter beginning in April 2013” while he served in the Air Force “and assigned to the National Security Agency (NSA).”
The DOJ states that while Hale was working at NGA, in February of 2014 he “printed six classified documents unrelated to his work at NGA and soon after exchanged a series of messages with the reporter. Each of the six documents printed were later published by the reporter’s news outlet.” The DOJ also states that Hale “printed 36 documents from his Top Secret computer, including 23 documents unrelated to his work at NGA.” Of those 23 documents, “Hale provided at least 17 to the reporter and/or the reporter’s online news outlet, which published the documents in whole or in part. Eleven of the published documents were marked as Top Secret or Secret.”
When he pleaded guilty in March, Hale admitted to downloading classified documents and sending them to a reporter. According to a Washington Post article, the documents contained information about “the protocol for ordering drone strikes and shed light on civilian casualties and internal military debates over the accuracy of intelligence.”
Hale’s Letter to the Court
Before his sentencing, Hale filed a handwritten letter to the court that went into detail about his motivations for leaking the documents. Hale writes about his role as a signals intelligence analyst at a Bagram Airbase, where he “was made to track down the geographic location of handset cellphone devices believed to be in the possession of so-called enemy combatants.” He explains the chain of action that would occur once he acquired information about a targeted cell phone and tells the story of the first drone strike he witnessed while stationed in Afghanistan.
“Since that time and to this day, I continue to recall several such scenes of graphic violence carried out from the cold comfort of a computer chair,” Hale’s letter reads. “Not a day goes by that I don’t question the justification for my actions.” Hale wrote: “But how could it have been considered honorable of me to continuously have laid in wait for the next opportunity to kill unsuspecting persons, who, more often than not, are posing no danger to me or any other person at the time.” Hale also discusses the gruesome details of other drone strikes he was a part of and how they affected him and his attitude towards the U.S.’ drone program. Read his full letter here.
“Left to decide whether to act, I only could do that which I ought to do before God and my own conscience. The answer came to me, that to stop the cycle of violence, I ought to sacrifice my own life and not that of another person,” Hale concludes in the letter. “So, I contacted an investigative reporter, with whom I had had an established prior relationship, and told him that I had something the American people needed to know.”
AP News reports that during his sentencing, Hale told U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady that “he felt compelled to leak information to a journalist out of guilt over his own participation in a program that he believed was indiscriminately killing civilians in Afghanistan far from the battlefield.”
“It is wrong to kill,” Hale told O’Grady. “It is especially wrong to kill the defenseless.”
In regards to Hale’s leaking of the documents, O’Grady told Hale that he could have pursued other avenues instead of going to the press with the classified documents, like resigning from his job or informing his commanders that he was not “going to do this anymore,” AP News reports. “Citing the need to deter others from illegal disclosures, he imposed a punishment that was harsher than the 12- to 18-month term sought by Hale’s attorneys.” However, the 45-month sentence was “significantly more lenient than the longer sentence sought by prosecutors,” according to AP News.
In an article about Hale’s sentencing, The Intercept provided an update on August 28 that Judge O’Grady “dismissed the four remaining charges against Hale.” Hale was charged under the Espionage Act, which “has long been decried by whistleblower advocates as a draconian measure used to unfairly punish whistleblowers,” WNN previously wrote.
Additionally, “court papers never specified the recipient of the leak,” but AP News states that “details about the case make it clear that the documents were given to Jeremy Scahill, a reporter at The Intercept, who used the documents as part of a series of critical reportson how the military conducted drone strikes on foreign targets.” AP News reports that because Hale “openly acknowledged” to leaking the documents, the arguments at the sentencing focused more on his rationale for his behavior “and what role that should play in the sentence calculation.” Hale’s lawyers “argued that he was motivated by his own conscience and that his leaks didn’t jeopardize national security,” while prosecutors “painted Hale as eager to ingratiate himself with journalists.”
Hale, however, “described himself as racked with angst over the role his actions may have played in the taking of innocent lives.” During his sentencing, he said “that he had wanted to dispel the idea that ‘drone warfare keeps us safe,’” an idea he also touched on in his letter to the court. Hale said that “the documents he leaked showed among other things that the drone program was not as precise as the government claimed in terms of avoiding civilian deaths.” According to AP News, “Hale repeatedly took responsibility for his actions but expressed more regret over wartime actions than the ‘taking of papers.’” He also expressed that “he was pained by the possibility that the actions in the drone program could have emboldened terrorists in the United States, referring to the case of Omar Mateen, the gunman who massacred nightclub patrons in Orlando, Florida, in 2016 and had explicitly demanded during the shooting that air strikes needed to stop.”
2021 Sam Adams Award and Representative Omar’s Request to President Biden
Since his sentencing, Hale has garnered more support. On August 23, the Sam Adams Associates announced that Hale won the 2021 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. The announcement was retweeted by the WikiLeaks Twitter account, which noted that Hale joins other notable recipients including Julian Assange, “who won the award in 2010.”
On August 25, Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) voiced her support for Hale in a letter to President Biden. “I am writing to strongly encourage you to use your authority to pardon Daniel Everette Hale, who was sentenced to 45 months in prison on July 27, 2021, after pleading guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act,” Rep. Omar’s letter begins. She explains that she takes “extremely seriously the prohibition on leaking classified information,” but she believes “there are several aspects of Mr. Hale’s case that merit a full pardon.”
Rep. Omar notes that Hale’s case began to be investigated under former president Obama, but “the Obama Department of Justice declined to prosecute him. It wasn’t until 2019, under President Trump, that he was indicted. We are all well aware of the severe consequences of the Trump Administration’s chilling crackdown on whistleblowers and other public servants who they deemed insufficiently loyal. I believe that the decision to prosecute Mr. Hale was motivated, at least in part, as a threat to other would-be whistleblowers.”
Rep. Omar mentions that the information Hale leaked “related to the drone program did not put any individual in danger” and, although “politically embarrassing to some, has shone a vital light on the legal and moral problems of the drone program and informed the public debate on an issue that has for too many years remained in the shadows.” The information Hale leaked “also provided concrete benefit to the legal efforts of Americans seeking to protect their Constitutional rights against secretive and arbitrary watchlisting practices,” the letter states.
Rep. Omar urges President Biden to read Hale’s handwritten letter to court and highlights that he pleaded guilty and “took full responsibility for his actions,” pointing to his motivation for leaking the documents as “profoundly moral.”
“As you frequently say, the United States should lead not just by the example of our power but by the power of our example,” Rep. Omar’s letter states. “Acknowledging where we’ve gone wrong, and telling the truth about our shortcomings, is not only the right thing to do, but also an act of profound patriotism. The legal question of Mr. Hale’s guilt is settled, but the moral question remains open. I strongly believe that a full pardon, or at least a commutation of his sentence, is warranted. It is for precisely these cases, where the letter of the law does not capture the complex human judgments in difficult situations, that your pardon authority is at its most useful.”