A former Air Force intelligence officer has been arrested and charged with espionage for leaking information to the press detailing how the U.S. government uses armed drones for secret assassination missions in foreign countries.
Daniel Everette Hale, 31, of Nashville, was arrested this morning. According to the Justice Department, Hale, during his time in the Air Force as an intelligence analyst, and then later as a private sector employee of a defense contractor, passed along top secret documents to a reporter, some of which were published.
The 2013-2014 timeframe during which this leaking allegedly happened suggests that Hale may have played a role in The Drone Papers, published by The Intercept. The series documented the secret use of drones to kill human targets, both in countries in which we're engaged in authorized military action (like Afghanistan) and countries where we are not (like Yemen and Somalia).
The person who leaked these documents to The Intercept revealed that the government classified anybody killed by U.S. drone strikes—even if they weren't the target—as militants, and that's how they were able to insist that civilians weren't being killed in significant numbers.
The Intercept stories were not news to the Yemenis, Somalians, and Afghans who have been affected by U.S. drone strikes on civilians. These people already knew that they and their loved ones are not terrorists. Hale—like Edward Snowden and Reality Winner—is being accused of "espionage" for the crime of informing the American people about their government's actions.
The Drone Papers were compiled and included in a book, The Assassination Complex, by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept. I reviewed the book in the December 2016 issue of Reason magazine. If Hale is the whistleblower who made that journalism possible, then this is likely him explaining the collateral damage of drone strikes in Afghanistan:
With the help of confidential documents leaked to The Intercept, the book is able to offer some hard numbers. In a yearlong operation in northeastern Afghanistan, the United States killed more than 200 people; only 35 were intended targets. The source who leaked the documents explained: "Anyone caught within the vicinity is guilty by association," but "there is no guarantee that those persons deserved their fate…so it's a phenomenal gamble."
Hale is charged with five separate crimes: obtaining national defense information, retention and transmission of national defense information, causing the communication of national defense information, disclosure of classified communications intelligence information, and theft of government property. The maximum penalty for each crime is 10 years, but he likely won't do a stint that long. Instead, he'll face incredible pressure to plead guilty and receive a shorter, but still likely harsh, sentence, just as Winner did.
Betsy Reed, editor in chief of The Intercept, released a statement declining to comment on whether Hale was the source of information for their drone coverage. She added:
Following in the dangerous path of the Obama administration, the Trump administration is continuing to use the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers who enable journalists to uncover disgraceful, immoral, and unconstitutional acts committed in secret by the U.S. government. At The Intercept, we stand firmly opposed to all such prosecutions.