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Former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst who leaked information about civilian deaths caused by drone strikes overseas Daniel Hale was sentenced to almost four years in prison Tuesday under the Espionage Act.
U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady handed down the sentence on Tuesday in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, stating that the 45-month sentence was needed as a deterrent to others from revealing government secrets. O’Grady told Hale he had other possible options than to share classified documents with a reporter.
Hale, 33, pleaded guilty in March to one count of violating the Espionage Act of 1917, admitting to “retention and transmission of national security information” as well as leaking 11 classified documents to a journalist. The documents were leaked to the Intercept, which published them in October 2015 as ‘The Drone Papers.’
Hale faced up to 10 years in prison under the plea deal – far less than the 50 years the original charges would have carried if he had gone to trial.
Other prominent whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, John Kiriakou, Daniel Ellsberg, and WikiLeaks have advocated on Hale’s behalf. In contrast, well-known human rights organizations such as the ACLU and PEN have mostly remained silent. Freedom of the Press Foundation called his punishment “shamefully excessive.”
The ACLU ultimately responded to the sentencing by saying that Hale "helped the public learn about a lethal program that never should have been kept secret. He should be thanked, not sentenced as a spy."
Kiriakou told RT in April that prosecuting whistleblowers under the Espionage Act takes away the opportunity for them to explain their motivations.
“He did it because he was exposing a war crime. He is not allowed to say that. And he really doesn't have any chance of acquittal,” Kiriakou said.
While working as a private contractor, Hale leaked numerous documents to The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill, showing the extent to which President Barack Obama’s drone warfare program in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen produced civilian casualties.
Documents reveal that of the 200 people killed between January 2012 and February 2013, just 35 were the intended targets. During one five-month period, nearly 90% of those killed were innocents, who were classified as “enemies killed in action.”
Hale becomes the third Intercept source to be arrested and put on trial by U.S. authorities. The FBI’s Terry Albury and the NSA’s Reality Winner – recently released on parole for good behavior – were both caught due to errors on the part of the outlet’s staff. While it wasn’t clear whether the same happened to Hale, his attorney blamed “failure of source protection” for his 2014 arrest.