Whistleblower Daniel Hale Sentenced To 45 Months In Prison For Exposing The Horrors Of US Drone Strike Programs

from the Espionage-Act-just-means-every-good-deed-gets-punished dept

A Tennessee man was sentenced today to 45 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for illegally obtaining classified national defense information and disclosing it to a reporter.

So begins the very dry press release from the Department of Justice. What this is, though, is another successful prosecution of a whistleblower. The "Tennessee man" is Daniel Hale, the whistleblower who exposed the breadth and reach of the United States' extrajudicial killing programs.

Hale's leaks followed shortly after Snowden's string of NSA bombshells. The intel gathered by the NSA's many programs formed the backbone for the drone strike programs Hale exposed: the "metadata" our government uses to "kill people."

Hale's house was raided by the FBI back in 2014, shortly after he was interviewed for the drone warfare documentary "National Bird." During his interview, Hale remarked on the risk he was taking discussing the program. Documents leaked to The Intercept by Hale resulted in the multi-part "Drone Papers" feature. The documents exposed the lengthy intel gaps that occurred between target acquisition and drone strikes. It also showed the Defense Department and CIA referred to collateral damage (i.e., the killing of nearby civilians) as "combatants killed in action," with minimal attempt made to tally up the number of people killed simply for existing near the government's targets.

The prosecution didn't begin until 2019, leaving Hale in suspended animation for nearly a half-decade. This prosecution under Trump pushed him past Obama for most whistleblowers prosecuted -- just another lousy addition to a lousy president's legacy.

This is the sort of thing Hale exposed and is now being imprisoned for sharing with journalists and US citizens expected to support these activities with their tax dollars.

Daniel knew cell phones could have been passed from presumed terrorists to other people entirely, and innocent people and those around innocent people would then be killed instead.

[...]

There was further evidence that when military-age males were murdered in a strike, they were classified as militants, an accounting trick that lowers civilian-death counts, and there was an account of a five-month period in Afghanistan in which U.S. forces hit 19 people who were targets of strikes and 136 who were not the targets. There were admissions that the intelligence on which strikes were based was often bad and that strikes made it difficult to get good information because the people who might have provided that information had just been killed by the strike.

Hale pled guilty to "retention and transmission of national defense information." This is a charge under the Espionage Act. His plea followed the judge's declaration that the court would not allow Hale to offer any public interest defense for his actions -- something that's almost always the case in espionage prosecutions. But Hale didn't hand this information to our nation's enemies. He handed it to journalists who published reports based on the documents. This wasn't an attempt to harm our nation. It was an attempt to inform Americans about the atrocities carried out in the name of national security.

For this act of courage, Hale will serve nearly four years in prison. And the war machine will roll on, not even momentarily interrupted by the publication of this supposedly sensitive information.

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Filed Under: daniel hale, doj, drone program, drone strikes, espionage act, extrajudicial killing, journalism, leaks, whistleblower


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 2 Aug 2021 @ 12:42pm

    'Our murders aren't the crime, you exposing them is.'

    His plea followed the judge's declaration that the court would not allow Hale to offer any public interest defense for his actions -- something that's almost always the case in espionage prosecutions.

    At that point you might as well drop the farce entirely and declare that the only outcome that will be considered acceptable or valid will be a guilty one because the outcome had already been decided before the trial even started and they're just going through the motions to twist the knife even more.

    Why is often more important than what, being the difference between self-defense and murder as an example, so completely barring context like that is blatantly rigging the trial and ensuring that only the desired outcome will be reached.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2021 @ 12:54pm

    I don't get why the hell courts haven't ruled the whole goddamned espionage act unconstitutional already. "Would cause disruption and shake up status quo." has not proven a sufficient reason against before.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 Aug 2021 @ 1:58pm

      Re:

      As with much of the rot plaguing the legal system the answer can be boiled down to two words, 'corruption' and 'cowardice'.

      Those that object to what is being done rarely raise those objections lest a political rival accuse them of being 'soft on crime/terrorists/spies' whereas for many others they see nothing wrong in turning court-rooms into nothing more than forums to railroad the obviously guilty into their well-earned punishments, with anything that might impede that(like the peons thinking they have rights) as obstacles to be worked around or ground down.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2021 @ 6:06pm

      Re:

      "Would cause disruption and shake up status quo." has not proven a sufficient reason against before.

      It depends on whose status quo you're talking about. As Techdirt has covered, plenty of people have jimmies too sensitive to be rustled.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 5 Aug 2021 @ 12:37pm

      The goddamned espionage act

      Because the courts aren't interested in what just, they're interested in what best serves the established regime.

      Hence why SCOTUS is packed with judges that don't flinch when large corporations cause the deaths of thousands.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2021 @ 1:15pm

    If you are gonna kill people at least have the balls to own it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 2 Aug 2021 @ 1:28pm

    Let this be a lesson to anyone else leaking information, even if it is for the public good. NEVER do interviews. If you can, NEVER let anyone know who you are. First rule of Leak Club; Never talk about Leak Club. If you have even an inkling the government may be on to you, go see if Snowden has a spare room for rent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2021 @ 2:14pm

    Tim,

    You should have included his quote to the judge:

    “I am here because I stole something that was never mine to take — precious human life,” Hale said at his sentencing.

    Puts his prosecution in a much different perspective.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 2 Aug 2021 @ 3:48pm

      Re:

      Yeah, gonna need some context for that because if he was on trial for murder I'd think that would have come up in the charges.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2021 @ 4:38pm

        Re: Re:

        The context is that he was a drone operator who was so overcome with revulsion that he decided to do the leaking thing.

        He wasn't on trial for murder, other than in his own conscience.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Aug 2021 @ 4:42pm

        Re: Re:

        Maybe I should have included the full quote:

        “I am here because I stole something that was never mine to take — precious human life,” Hale said. “I couldn’t keep living in a world in which people pretend that things weren’t happening that were. Please, your honor, forgive me for taking papers instead of human lives.”

        Here is just one source:

        DANIEL HALE SENTENCED TO 45 MONTHS IN PRISON FOR DRONE LEAK

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 2 Aug 2021 @ 6:30pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Ah, yeah the full quote definitely adds some much needed context there and drastically alters what his 'plea' originally sounded like from 'I'm sorry I murdered people' to 'I'm sorry I decided that taking documents was more acceptable than taking lives'.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            David, 3 Aug 2021 @ 3:14am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Nice illustration of Richelieu's "If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him."

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Oblate (profile), 2 Aug 2021 @ 4:25pm

      Re:

      A bit surprised the prosecutor didn't object to the use of the word 'precious'.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Nimrod, 2 Aug 2021 @ 5:13pm

    God bless murderers and their accomplices.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 2 Aug 2021 @ 8:47pm

    Speaking of whistleblowers

    Lets NEVER forget that these were the "smartest guys in the room!!!!" , https://www.bbc.com/news/business-58026162

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 5 Aug 2021 @ 12:41pm

    "Combatants"

    Routinely included grandmothers and children. Fun-sized Terrorists in the parlance of US drone operators.

    Curiously, the drone crews were treated so poorly, the burnout exceeded recruitment. I don't know if they fixed that.

    At least the ninja missile hellfire variant reduces casualties, when they choose to use it. It still doesn't affect what is now decades of extrajudicial killing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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