A former intelligence analyst was taken into custody Thursday after federal authorities unsealed an indictment accusing him of leaking more than a dozen classified national defense documents to a journalist.
Daniel Everette Hale, 31, of Nashville, Tenn., illegally printed 36 classified documents, including 23 that were unrelated to his work, and shared at least 17 of them with a reporter with whom he had constant communications and meetings, according to the indictment.
The reporter’s online news outlet later published 11 of those documents as part of an investigation into the government’s use of drone strikes to target and kill people around the world. The leaks took place between July 2013 and August 2014, when Hale was employed by a defense contractor working with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA, according to the indictment.
The document does not identify the reporter or his outlet, but the description suggests they are Jeremy Scahill and the news site The Intercept. The outlet said in a statement Thursday morning that it “does not comment on matters relating to the identity of anonymous sources,” but it described the arrest as an abuse of power.
Hale also served as an airman in the U.S. Air Force from 2009 to 2013 and was assigned to work as an intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency in Afghanistan during part of that time, authorities said. As part of his role, he had a top security clearance and was responsible for identifying, tracking and targeting threat networks.
The 11 documents that were published by online and later in a book include information on a military campaign targeting Al Qaeda, information on specific targets, an intelligence report on an Al Qaeda operative, a PowerPoint presentation on counter-terrorism operations and a report listing the accomplishments of an intelligence agency tasked with preventing terrorist attacks.
The indictment states that Hale knew that unauthorized sharing of classified materials “could cause injury to the United States or be used to the advantage of a foreign nation.”
Hale was expected to appear in federal court later on Thursday.
The charges against him include retention and transmission of national defense information, disclosure of classified communications intelligence information and theft of government property. If convicted, he faces up to 50 years in prison.
The indictment indicates Hale was the one who first sought to contact the reporter, beginning with online searches in April 2013 about a scheduled book tour appearance by Scahill at a Washington, D.C. bookstore. Hale attended the event and later sent a text message to a friend saying the reporter wanted him “to tell my story about working with drones at the opening screening of his documentary about war and the use of drones.”
The investigative journalist, who co-founded The Intercept, wrote the 2013 documentary “Dirty Wars,” an Oscar-nominated film that exposes secrets behind America’s expanding covert wars. He’s also the author of the best-selling book “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield” and “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.”
Hale and Scahill met in person multiple times and sometimes communicated via Jabber, an encrypted messaging platform, according to the indictment.
The Intercept published in 2013 a series of investigative stories called “The Drone Papers,” which are based on “a cache of secret documents” provided by a whistleblower. The website’s editor-in-chief, Betsy Reed, said Thursday that Hale’s leaked documents revealed “unconstitutional acts” carried out by the government under former President Barrack Obama.
“These documents detailed a secret, unaccountable process for targeting and killing people around the world, including U.S. citizens, through drone strikes,” she wrote.
A director at First Look Media, The Intercept’s parent company, called the arrest an abuse of the Espionage Act to criminalize the process of reporting.
“Everyone who cares about press freedom should reject the government’s outrageous crackdown on whistleblowers, which accelerated dramatically under President Barack Obama and has escalated further under Donald Trump, targeting the very people who are working the hardest to hold the government accountable for abuses and to protect our democracy,” James Risen, director of the organization’s Press Freedom Defense Fund, said in a statement.
The arrest comes a month after the federal government charged Wikileaks founder Julian Assange with helping former U.S. intelligence analyst and whistleblower Chelsea Manning access classified information from Department of Defense computers.
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