Civil Liberties

A Drone Whistleblower Goes to Prison

Too often, the government punishes citizens who reveal the state's true behavior to their fellow Americans.

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A federal judge in August sentenced Daniel Hale to 45 months in federal prison for informing the American public about secret drone killings by the U.S. military.

Hale is a former Air Force intelligence analyst who shared classified documents with reporter Jeremy Scahill. Those documents, published in 2015 at The Intercept and in a book called The Assassination Complex (Simon & Schuster), revealed that secret drone assassinations in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia had likely killed untold numbers of innocent people, a fact the U.S. government had concealed.

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

The reality, Hale revealed, was that the targeted strikes regularly resulted in the deaths of bystanders. The government hid this fact by classifying anybody killed in a U.S. drone strike as a "militant," even when he was not a target. This obfuscation allowed the government to insist it was minimizing civilian casualties.

The feds caught up with Hale in 2019 and charged him with espionage. Hale acknowledged that he violated the law and pleaded guilty to sharing classified information, but he refused to apologize.

In a lengthy handwritten letter to U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady, Hale described an incident in which a drone strike he had helped arrange failed to kill its target (an Afghan man allegedly involved in making car bombs) and instead killed the man's 5-year-old daughter. "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," Hale wrote.

Prosecutors argued that Hale leaked the documents to boost his own ego and that doing so 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 in court. "All he did was endanger the people who are doing the fighting."

Hale's sentence is an example of how the federal government misuses laws meant for spies who reveal classified information to our country's enemies. Too often, it punishes citizens who reveal the government's true behavior to their fellow Americans.

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  2. Funny how quickly all those whistleblower protections go out the window when the whistle blown is inconvenient to the narrative.

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  3. For whatever reason, I feel like Shackford is not giving us all the relevant context. I am sure there is a little more to this story. Hale does not deny breaking the law. Far from it, apparently.

    The Fed’s actions to me feel like they’re more pissed about being exposed, rather than examine the legality (not to say morality) and execution of the kill by drone policy.

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  4. This is another violation of our inalienable right to free speech.

    An inalienable right is one that cannot be given or taken away or sold.

    NDA’s are a violation of 1a.

    If you want to keep a secret, it’s totally on you and nobody else. Don’t tell anyone because our inalienable rights mean we can change our minds and no constitutionally correct law would prevent us from exercising our rights.

    1. Another example of “inalienable rights” is LEO’s justification of searches as “constitutional” because the victim agreed. If threats or force is used to achieve “permission” it’s not voluntary or an exception to any “unalienable right”. For example, if a citizen hands over money to avoid death or other harm, is it voluntary? If an LEO claims the citizen requests death, e.g., “Go ahead and kill me but I’m not going to let you vaccinate me”, has the citizen given permission to violate “right to life”? Does even a voluntary attempt to commit “suicide by cop” release the cop from his duty to protect life? Of course not! One cannot lose rights! That’s what “inalienable/unalienable” mean. LEOs/govt. officials are supposed to be protectors of rights, before enforcers of law. Claims of “right’s waivers” or “I was in fear for my life” are not relevant, not an excuse, no matter how many SCOTUS justices say so.

      1. An inalienable right cannot be given or taken away or sold.

        Any law or contract that ostensibly does so isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

  5. Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller will get the same treatment, for the same reason. He made Democrats look bad.

  6. War crimes are war crimes regardless of who is the President.

  7. “All he did was endanger the people who are doing the fighting.”

    Uh, how exactly?

    1. Because if we can’t use drones to kill 5 year old girls we’ll have to send servicemen to do it directly. Which will endanger them.

  8. ” . . . revealed that secret drone assassinations in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia had likely killed untold numbers of innocent people, a fact the U.S. government had concealed.”

    I got some bad news for you, Scott. That is exactly what war does.
    Look up Dresden, Hiroshima, Tet Offensive, Warsaw uprising, Viet Cong, Russian revolution.

    1. The Chocolate Jesus would never do that.

  9. Absent evidence of risking US lives or damaging necessary intelligence or otherwise harming our efforts against legitimate enemies, this guy is a hero in my opinion. We should be mindful however that prosecutors “say that documents leaked by Hale were found in an internet compilation of material designed to help Islamic State fighters avoid detection.”

    It seems to me that arguments against drones may not be allowing for the increased collateral damage from other means of warfare, like bombs and attacks by troops. Collateral damage is inevitable in warfare and while a just nation attempts to minimize it, we can’t pretend it can be eliminated.

    The Obama administration started a fairly vigorous public reporting system on drone collateral damage in 2016 which the Trump administration ended.

    1. Thanks Joe, good boy! The DNC will give you an extra doggie biscuit. I’m sure they wish they had you when the Mi Lai massacre happened.

    2. The Obama administration started a fairly vigorous public reporting system…in 2016

      What did he do to the one that the Bush administration started in 2008?

      1. Friday’s got a case of the Mondays.

  10. “Hale’s sentence is an example of how the federal government misuses laws meant for spies who reveal classified information to our country’s enemies. Too often, it punishes citizens who reveal the government’s true behavior to their fellow Americans.”

    I think the federal government has been pretty clear that Americans _are_ their enemies.

  11. If the government is afraid of what you’ll do then you’re a terrorist. Once so identified your claim to rights or justice are nullified.

  12. He endangered the people “doing the fighting”?
    The people in the remote control room?

  13. Well it was an assault on King Obama’s administration behalf.
    It’s okay to slander President Trump on anything under the sun, including just flat-out fairy-tales — but NOT King Obama.

    1. Mr. Hale regrets that he has only one job to lose for his country.

    2. BOOOOOOOOOOOOOM !!!!!

  14. Exactly why they hate us.

    1. ask chinajoe ………… or crackhead ………

  15. This is a bit of gaslighting. The man was convicted of passing classified documents to a reporter. He signed documents acknowledging that disclosure of such information was a felony when he was granted a security clearance and that fact is reiterated every year through mandatory refresher training. You don’t get to reveal classified information just because you don’t like a program. He deserves to be in jail.

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