Former Air Force intelligence analyst charged with leaking Obama-era drone secrets

Court documents said the analyst gave classified documents to a reporter that were published on a news site federal officials have confirmed was The Intercept.
A Reaper drone during a combat mission over Afghanistan.
A Reaper drone during a combat mission over Afghanistan.Lt. Col.. Leslie Pratt / AP file

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By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — A former Air Force enlisted man who served as an intelligence analyst and government contractor was charged Thursday with illegally giving classified information to a reporter.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said Daniel Everette Hale, 31, of Nashville, Tennessee, was arrested Thursday morning and would make his initial appearance there later in the day.

Court documents said Hale gave more than a dozen classified documents to the reporter that were then published in whole or in part on a news website. Though the documents did not name either the journalist or the news organization, federal officials confirmed that the reporter was Jeremy Scahill, and the online news site was The Intercept. Scahill is listed on the website as one of its three founding editors.

A grand jury indictment said Hale met the reporter at an April 29, 2013 book tour event in Washington, which started several months of conversations between them, in person and through an encrypted messaging app.

The FBI said while working as a contractor at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Hale printed out 11 secret or top-secret documents describing U.S. counterterrorism operations overseas under the administration of President Barack Obama. Court documents said one described a military campaign targeting al Qaeda and another contained information gathered by U.S. intelligence about "specific named targets."

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Prosecutors said that of nearly two dozen documents Hale printed that were unrelated to his work as a contractor, he provided at least 17 to Scahill or The Intercept. Scahill published a book, "Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield," and wrote about drones for The Intercept. He also made a documentary film, "Dirty Wars."

In a statement posted on its website Thursday, The Intercept said it "does not comment on matters relating to the identity of anonymous sources."

James Risen, director of First Look Media’s Press Freedom Defense Fund, said Hale's prosecution "amounts to an abuse of the Espionage Act to criminalize the process of reporting."

The indictment charging Hale said the documents he provided "were published by the Reporter's Online News Outlet and compiled and published in a book authored by the Reporter."

Scahill's article about drones for The Intercept, posted in 2015, said the documents it published were "provided by a whistleblower."

"The source said he decided to provide these documents to The Intercept because he believes the public has a right to understand the process by which people are placed on kill lists and ultimately assassinated on orders from the highest echelons of the U.S. government," the article said.

The Intercept quoted the source as saying, "This outrageous explosion of watchlisting — of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield — it was, from the very first instance, wrong."

Hale was charged with illegally obtaining and disclosing classified national defense information and theft of government property.

In August 2018, a former contractor for the NSA, Reality Winner, was sentenced to five years in prison for leaking classified documents to The Intercept that detailed Russian efforts to hack into the computers of a company that made software for local election officials. She pleaded guilty to mailing the documents to the news site.