Drones

Daniel Hale Revealed America's Drone Assassinations to the Public. He's Been Sentenced to 45 Months in Prison.

Federal espionage laws are used once again to punish a whistleblower.

|

A federal judge has sentenced a leaker to prison for helping keep Americans informed about abuses being perpetrated in their name.

Daniel Hale is a former Air Force intelligence analyst who revealed how America's secret drone assassinations in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia were likely killing untold numbers of innocent people. On Tuesday he was sentenced to 45 months in prison after he previously pleaded guilty to passing along classified documents to a reporter that were subsequently published in 2015.

It's widely believed that Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept was the recipient of those documents, though The Intercept will not confirm.

Hale's leaks were intended to show that the drone assassinations under President Barack Obama were not what the American public believed them to be. The government insisted that its secret "kill list" of terrorists was carefully vetted, and the drone strikes were only deployed to kill those the government and military believed it was unfeasible to arrest.

The reality, Hale revealed, was the drone strikes regularly resulted in the death of innocents, and the government covered it up by automatically classifying anybody killed as "militants" even when they weren't the targets of the strikes. This allowed the government to insist that civilian casualties were being kept to a minimum.

The documentation Hale provided was published as "The Drone Papers" by Scahill and later as part of a book titled The Assassination Complex.

The feds finally caught up with Hale in 2019 and arrested him, charging him with espionage. After the arrest, Hale pleaded guilty and essentially threw himself at the mercy of the court, acknowledging that he violated the law while refusing to apologize for it. In a lengthy handwritten letter to U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady, Hale described an incident where a drone strike he helped arrange failed to kill its target (an Afghan man allegedly involved in making car bombs) and instead killed his 5-year-old daughter. He wrote, "Now, whenever I encounter an individual who thinks that drone warfare is justified and reliably keeps America safe, I remember that time and ask myself how I could possibly believe that I am a good person, deserving of my life and the right to pursue happiness."

Remarkably, despite informing the American public that our drone strikes were killing innocent people, prosecutors attempted to argue that Hale's leaks were to boost his own ego and put Americans at risk.

"Hale did not in any way contribute to the public debate about how we fight wars," Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg said. "All he did was endanger the people who are doing the fighting." The Justice Department sought a nine-year sentence for Hale.

Fortunately, O'Grady didn't fully buy Kromberg's argument, but he did tell Hale that he could have been a whistleblower and spoken out against the drone tactics without stealing and leaking the documents.

O'Grady has a pretty naive attitude toward how whistleblowers in the United States in recent years have actually affected change. The documentation is important, and it's abundantly clear that leaving it to the government officials themselves to validate whether they exist won't accomplish much.

There were stories that hinted at the federal government and the National Security Agency misusing the PATRIOT Act to engage in massive secret domestic collection of Americans' communications years before Edward Snowden leaked documents to Glenn Greenwald. Back in 2006, a lawsuit by the Electronic Frontier Foundation helped expose AT&T's Room 641A, where the NSA used technology to intercept and analyze online communications.

But when Snowden leaked a trove of classified documents in 2013 showing exactly how widespread this surveillance was, that actual evidence blew the doors wide open, and the American public was finally able to grasp how much of their personal information the own government was collecting.

The documentation matters. The Washington Post notes that Hale's leaking of documentation showing how the government put people on secret terrorism watchlists helped civil rights lawyers fight for due process for their clients.

Hale is yet another case where the federal government has used espionage laws not to punish spies who reveal classified information to our country's enemies, but to punish people who reveal the government's unethical and illegal behavior to our country's own citizens.

NEXT: State Governments Are Creating Their Own Drug Cartels

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “Hale is yet another case where the federal government has used espionage laws not to punish spies who reveal classified information to our country’s enemies, but to punish people who reveal the government’s unethical and illegal behavior to our country’s own citizens.”

    Standard operating procedure.

    1. . . . our country’s enemies

      . . . our country’s own citizens.”

      They’re the same people.

      1. Fantastic work-from-home opportunity for everyone… Work for three to eight a day and startING getting paid in XXX the range of 17,000-19,000 dollars a month… Weekly payments Learn More details Good luck…

        See……………VISIT HERE

    2. Fuck that.

      You have a problem with any level of government, you file a whistleblower complaint with the assigned Inspector General or arrange to speak to Congress.

      You don’t leak to the press. The only conclusion that can be drawn from a press leak is self gratification and espionage.

  2. “Hale’s leaks were intended to show that the drone assassinations under President Barack Obama were not what the American public believed them to be.”

    I cannot believe anyone would try to harm the reputation of Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama like that. Might Hale have been working for Putin? Or is he just a racist?

    Either way, 45 months sounds lenient.

    #IMissObama

    1. Yeah. I heard that a certain German dictator used to execute people for spreading rumors about some camps somewhere…..

      1. The people who put said German dictator out of business (fortunately for us) also ended up killing a lot of civilians (collateral damage).

        1. Such is all out, unrestrained war. Cologne was nothing but a pile of rubble, with the shell of a big cathedral in the middle of it that bomber pilots routinely used to set their bearings. LeMay’s fire bombings of Japanese cities was not for military purposes but to reduce the civilian population to despair and killed far more people than both atomic bombs.

          I am not commenting that WWII was not a just war, or that what was done wasn’t necessary, but to the winner goes the spoils, and the writing of history [and determines who gets charged as war criminals].

          1. Serves us right for getting involved in a socialist civil war.

    2. Hale is lucky he didn’t leak something nasty about the Clintons.
      Instead of 45 months in jail, he’d be the dead victim of an unsolved mugging.

      1. He wouldn’t have been a victim of an unsolved mugging, he would have committed suicide by shooting himself.

        With two different guns.
        Eight times.
        In the back.

        1. Barefoot.
          In the snow.

          1. I did like the ‘dropping weights on myself while working out’ one. It had style.

        2. …,, then hiding the guns.

  3. Big surprise. It turned out the dems were the fascist punks all along.

    And Brennan appeared to have lied extensively to protect the Messiah.

  4. Racist! I mean, why else would he have released the information while Obama was president!

    Seriously though, had he waited a year or two his leak would have been dismissed as TDS by the attack trolls.

    1. If he had waited a year or two there would have been a lot fewer illegal drone strikes to report on.

  5. The word inalienable means something that cannot be taken or given away.

    When the Constitution and Declaration of Independence guarantees the inalienable right of free speech to all US Citizens that makes it illegal for anyone or the government itself to have someone swear an oath of secrecy.

    That courts aren’t required to recognize this is an injustice.

    If someone has a secret in an environment of inalienable free speech they assume ALL the risk of it being exposed. Secret societies beware.

    1. Societies that cannot protect military secrets lose wars to other societies that are less concerned about their civil liberties.

      1. Forget it, Hugo. It’s Mizektown.

        Hale wasn’t sworn after-the-fact. He took the oath voluntarily as a condition of hire, and knew what that meant.

      2. Is that from The Prince?

      3. Societies that violate inalienable rights are shitholes.

        1. Almost as terrible as Holocaust deniers.

    2. Turns out, the ‘truth’ is not what you thought it was.

      Which is why you’re wrong here.

      Its certainly possible to trade off your right to free speech – which is what NDA’s are. And people take on a duty to protect classified material voluntarily. All these are situations where a person takes on a duty to refrain from certain speech.

      If this is the case, then how can the ‘truth’ be that ‘inalienable’ means ‘you can’t trade a right’.

      1. Inalienable means what it means. That’s the truth.

        It is NOT POSSIBLE to trade away an inalienable right. If you can trade it, it isn’t inalienable.

        An NDA logically violates free speech.

        1. “An NDA logically violates free speech.”

          Do you post here to prove how stupid Nazis can be?

        2. And yet I can sign an NDA.

          An NDA logically violates free speech.

          Only if you insist that I can not choose to voluntarily refrain from talking while accepting the imposition of a penalty if I fail to do so.

          And here I thought you were all about ‘truth’ and ‘logic’ but there it is staring you in the face and yet you keep insisting on your lie.

          1. You can choose to be silent but you CAN’T be compelled by law to be, like when you sign an NDA and later choose to speak freely.

            Truth that.

    3. What drugs do you take or is the problem you are off your MEDS. The government, and Private Business are allowed to have SECRETS. Just like your conversation with your Doctor or Lawyer.

      You have no right to damage the country, a business, or a person’s life because you feel like it. Have you never had a job? Had knowledge of things you were not supposed to share? I guess not, because if you did you would not be so pigheafef about this, ya I read your childish responses to those that tried to educated you.

      1. Sneaky fuckers can have all the secrets they want.

        They just can’t legally compel others to swear to secrecy In a environment of inalienable free speech.

        1. They don’t do that.

          I mean, I’ve been over this. One *voluntarily* takes on a duty to protect classified material. No one forces you to take on that duty. Its voluntary.

          These people have voluntarily taken on that duty.

          1. Until you change your mind and are not allowed to speak freely.

            I’ve been over this before.

      2. Also, if your secret is exposed in an environment of inalienable free speech, you haven’t lost anything you have a right to.

    4. The Constitution doesn’t use the word “unalienable”. The Declaration does, with respect to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, but not specifically with respect to free speech. Secrecy oaths that protect legitimate military secrets are surely permissible. But when they are used to keep politically damaging information from the American public, they become problematic.

      1. “Among others” which are clearly enumerated in the constitution.

        Do you think that you have liberty without free speech?

        1. Your claim is that free speech is inalienable.

          The counter claim is nowhere does it say that.

          How do you have liberty if you’re not free to enter into a contract?

          1. Any contract that violates an inalienable right is illegal.

            I’ve been over this before.

            1. 1st Amendment …. “Congress shall make no law”
              Well; Congress didn’t make a law – freedom to contract did.

              1. A contract supported by law that violates inalienable free speech used by the government.

                Fellow Americans take issue with your denial of the inalienable right to free speech. You belong in communist China POS.

                1. You’re just not going to sell anyone on the idea that the first Amendment thwarts Patient, Copyright, Right to Privacy, Trade Secrets, War Plans, Bomb Threats and everything else you can dream up.

                  Just as the same amendment isn’t going to allow religious identities to terrorize the world out of some “free excise thereof” because there is no “free” right to commit crimes.

                  1. Inalienable means not able to be taken or given away.

                    Those who are criminal in nature need to violate our rights. It is in their interest to make these violations legal.

                    Those who recognize how rights protect us have called our rights inalienable.

                    I understand that rights have limitations tho protect other rights we have.

                    We don’t have the right to coerce others to keep our secrets. My secret isn’t your responsibility, ever because you have free speech. Simply getting you to sign an NDA doesn’t change that.

                    I will agree that it would be a reasonable limitation if your secret demonstrateably saves innocent lives, being temporarily excluded as an inalienable right to expose until those innocent lives are taken out of harms way.

                    It would be unreasonable unless in a time of war to create such a situation, expecting nondisclosure.

                    If we don’t fiercely protect our inalienable rights, we will lose them.

                    With the way our citizens, our government and our laws currently disregard our rights we are losing them.

                    1. “our government and our laws currently disregard our rights”
                      ^Exactly why they are worded “Congress shall make no law”.
                      to restrict “our government and our laws”..

                      So one is going too far to claim a contract that only applies to a few signing members is in violation of National Law.

                      I agree with your premise; but it goes in with the ‘negative/positive’ rights discussion. Congress shall not start passing law that subsidizes free ‘crime’ speech either.

            2. Except that it isn’t. Which is why we have them.

    5. Now do HIPAA.

      1. I get it. Free speech conflicts with how we currently live our secret lives.

        Thing is, the censorship of speech is a greater threat to civilization than sharing the KFC recipe or your toenail fungus details.

      2. Never mind HIPPA, do attorney client privilege.

        1. Isn’t that where you confess your guilt to your attorney then together you lie about it in court?

          Yeah, I can’t imagine a good reason for that anyways.

  6. “Hale did not in any way contribute to the public debate about how we fight wars,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg said. “All he did was endanger the people who are doing the fighting.”

    Those brave drone pilots, weaving their way through AAA, flak bursts, and SAM sites.

    1. More likely, people on the ground in enemy territory who gave us info who (or where) to strike.

      1. Shhhhh! They’re ranting.

        Yeah, giving up how you know that Jangle Truck 64 is the one carrying Barack Bin-Bombem, and not the hundreds of others that look pretty much the same from FL 300—nevermind how to ID that he’s in this qalat, but not that one…that might be of some use to some people.

        “You fucked up! You trusted us!”

      2. No, people outside of Las vegas operating a drone from a windowless, air-conditioned office through a satellite link.

        At worst, its people sitting in a windowless van under an armored aircraft shelter in the middle of a fortified air field just outside a major Afghani city and hundreds of miles from where the Taliban are.

        1. Sometimes it’s two dudes with a laser designator not far outside the blast radius.

  7. So civilians were killed when bombs were dropped? Horrors!

    Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed by bombs in WWII. Do you give a shit? I don’t.

    1. “The Bombing of Tokyo was a series of firebombing air raids by the United States Army Air Forces during the Pacific campaigns of World War II. Operation Meetinghouse, which was conducted on the night of 9–10 March 1945, is the single most destructive bombing raid in human history. Of central Tokyo 16 square miles (41 km2; 10,000 acres) were destroyed, leaving an estimated 100,000 civilians dead and over one million homeless.”
      (Note: does not include deaths from resulting effects of disease or starvation)
      Hiroshima:
      20,000 soldiers killed, 70,000–126,000 civilians killed
      Note: does include radiation deaths over the next ‘several months’)

      1. As I stated above, to the winner go the spoils, the writing of history, and deciding who gets to be executed as a war criminal. In other words, might makes right, amIright?

        1. “…In other words, might makes right, amIright?”

          Pretty sure you’re not well educated.
          Please tell us which alternative we had to end WWII with fewer casualties.
          Guessing we’re gonna get crickets.

    2. In WWII there wasn’t the ability to literally see your target and drop a single bomb on it. Three quarters of a century ago they’d need to drop thousands dumb bombs to hit that same target. So comparing the two is, well, dumb.

    3. Civilians who had the opportunity to vote against the initiation of force, but voted instead for looter Kleptocracy puppets–those get the government bombings and sympathy they deserve. The NAP was written in 1947, while National Socialists stretched ropes.

  8. Hale committed a crime.
    Hale confessed.
    How is prison in any inappropriate?

    Why is his ‘leak’ more moral than the ‘leak’ of Hunter’s laptop contents?
    Who is John Galt?

  9. He should have waited and leaked only the drone strikes that Trump ordered-then he would be rightfully cheered as a hero. But because the were under Obama’s watch, he’s a traitor to team blue

  10. I thought we loved all those brave whistleblowers?

    Or just the ones who, even though they don’t actually meet the language of the whistleblower statute, get treated as saints because they’re trying to GET. TRUMP.

    Like that Eric Ciaramella guy.

    1. Corpsman! We need first aid for a badly butthurt Trumptreue fanboy on aisle 6000 on the double.

      1. Get fucked, shit weasel

        1. Yeah, he’s a mendacious leftitarian. But on the plus side he appears to have laid off the faux Hunter Thompson schtick.

  11. “O’Grady didn’t fully buy Kromberg’s argument, but he did tell Hale that he could have been a whistleblower and spoken out against the drone tactics without stealing and leaking the documents.”

    That’s some USDA grade-A bullshit there.

    Although Hale’s bigger problem is that the average American is very comfortable with illegal war and murdering innocent people, and doesn’t give a flying fuck just so long as they can have their big TV and gas stays under $5 a gallon.

  12. “But when Snowden leaked a trove of classified documents in 2013 showing exactly how widespread this surveillance was, that actual evidence blew the doors wide open, and the American public was finally able to grasp how much of their personal information the own government was collecting.”

    The “American public” is too fucking stupid to grasp anything of the sort.

  13. Well, good for Daniel Hale for his service in releasing those documents. It is a shame that he is punished for it. Let’s hope his sentence is pardoned or commuted at some point.

    1. Not before 2024, minimum.

    2. Well that read like boilerplate. What do you really think, chemleft.

    3. I remember when Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers and the uproar that caused.

  14. Hale did not in any way contribute to the public debate about how we fight wars,

    Technically correct, since there hasn’t been any public debate.

  15. The Kleptocracy really ramped up the use of secret police terrorism to enforce Comstockism, the Manifesto income tax and Volstead Act prohibition. Revealing the killers, thus making them liable to justice, is a crime. Murdering civilians is now again defined as duty–like under National Socialist occupation.
    This is another excellent reason to vote the straight Libertarian ticket and defund the Kleptocracy.

  16. Everyone who runs is a VC. Everyone that stands still is a well disciplined VC.

  17. Who remembers that goddamned weasel of a teleprompter-in-chief trying to convince us that a couple of White House shysters jawboning for a while over whether they could get away with murdering a US citizen who hadn’t been so much as indicted, let alone convicted of a capital crime, was “due process”?

    -jcr

  18. While this sounds like a travesty, I’m not so sure. Before gaining access to classified information, you sign documents promising not to reveal the information under penalty of law. If you think a law is being broken, there are channels one can take to report them. Each individual is not allowed to simply reveal classified information because it upsets them. If I work on a new stealth bomber but one day I decide I’m not happy with the fact that civilians might be killed when it drops a bomb, that doesn’t mean I can publicly reveal all the details of the program. How would we have reacted if a conscientious object had revealed details of the D-Day Invasion for fear that civilians might die? Sadly, innocent people die in war. If they were not specifically targeted – and there is nothing to suggest they were – that’s unfortunate but not criminal or even unavoidable. Smart weapons technology has greatly reduce collateral damage but anyone expecting it to go to zero has never been in a war.

    1. Even if the bombers were killing people for fun, that’s not a reason to go outside the assigned channels to report badness he knew about.

      Any DC junior lawyer could’ve gotten him an audience before a closed classified congressional hearing, if it was so concerning.

      He could’ve gone to the NDI.

      Instead he leaked to a reporter.

  19. Was he really a whistleblower if he never blew the whistle?

  20. And the congressmen on trial for Espionage against U.S. Citizens?

  21. “the further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”
    George Orwell.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.