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Facing 50 Years in Prison, Whistleblower Daniel Hale Pleads Guilty

Former Air Force and NSA intelligence analyst Daniel Hale, who blew the whistle on the U.S. government’s drone strike program in 2013, plead guilty to one count under the Espionage Act yesterday. Hale faced five charges, each carrying a decade in prison, in the Eastern District of Virginia, where a conviction would have been all but guaranteed. Hale, who now faces up to 10 years in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced this summer.

Hale disclosed documents shedding new light on the U.S.’s secret remote assassination program, including how the Obama administration decided who to place on its “kill lists,” internal criticisms of the program, and accounts of civilian casualties.

In 2015, The Intercept published “The Drone Papers” based on a “cache of secret documents detailing the inner workings of the U.S. military’s assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. The documents, provided by a whistleblower, offer an unprecedented glimpse into Obama’s drone wars.”

The following year, The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill published “The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program.” As the Washington Post reports, “A chapter in the book, “Why I Leaked the Watchlist Documents,” was written by “Anonymous.” Hale admitted in court Wednesday to writing the chapter anonymously.”

Throughout his trial, Hale’s legal team, which includes veteran whistleblower attorney Jesselyn Radack, contested the use of the 1917 Espionage Act, which was created in World War I to target traitors and spies but became the Obama administration’s weapon of choice against whistleblowers from Thomas Drake and John Kiriakou to Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.

“Daniel Hale may have pleaded to a count under the Espionage Act, but he is not a spy,” Radack wrote upon news of his plea.

“He was accused of giving an investigative journalist truthful information in the public interest about the secretive US drone warfare program. That information revealed gross human rights violations, and that drones were more deadly and less accurate than the US presented publicly.

The U.S. government’s policy of punishing people who provide journalists with information in the public interest is a profound threat to free speech, free press, and a healthy democracy.”

Hale’s plea, though not part of a deal with prosecutors, is an attempt to avoid potentially decades in prison. A conviction in the EDVA, where a jury would comprise members of the military industrial complex and their relatives, would have been all but guaranteed. CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou has said of the Alexandria court’s high percentage of Espionage Act convictions, “They don’t call EDVA the “Espionage Court” for nothing.”

Furthermore, the government would likely have given Hale an exorbitantly high prison sentence in an effort to make an example of a whistleblower and to chill the vital investigative journalism based on classified source documents which inform the public about what their governments do in their name.

“Classified information is published in the press every day,” Radack explained.

“in fact, the biggest leaker of classified information is the U.S. government. However, the Espionage Act is used uniquely to punish those sources who give journalists information that embarrasses the government or exposes its lies.

Every whistleblower jailed under the Espionage Act is a threat to the work of national security journalists and the sources they rely upon to hold the government accountable.”

Hale’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 13th. We’ll continue to report on his case.