Marion, Illinois — Daniel Hale, dressed in a khaki uniform, his hair cut short and sporting a long, neatly groomed brown beard, is seated behind a plexiglass screen, speaking into a telephone receiver at the federal prison in Marion, Illinois. I hold a receiver on the other side of the plexiglass and listen as he describes his journey from working for the National Security Agency and the Joint Special Operations Task Force at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan to becoming federal prisoner 26069-07. Hale, a 34-year-old former Air Force signals intelligence analyst, is serving a 45 month prison sentence, following his conviction under the Espionage Act for disclosing classified documents about the U.S. military’s drone assassination program and its high civilian death toll. The documents are believed to be the source material for “The Drone Papers” published by The Intercept, **on October 15, 2015.
One year ago this July, drone whistleblower Daniel Hale stood in front of Judge Liam O’Grady at his sentencing and explained himself. After a lengthy investigation and prosecution, it was finally the day when Hale would find out if he would spend years in prison for doing something he felt morally obligated to do: Tell the truth about the United States’ drone program. While working as a drone analyst in the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan, he witnessed attacks waged against innocent civilians that, to this day, still haunt him. Those experiences eventually led him to blow the whistle on the drone program. Judge O’Grady said Hale wasn’t being punished for telling the truth, but for stealing government documents that disclose that truth.
The New York Times recently came through with a display of reporting that should be commended. On December 18, the paper announced its release of hundreds of the Pentagon's confidential reports of civilian casualties caused by U.S. airstrikes in the Middle East. This follows its high profile investigations into the U.S. drone murder of the Ahmadi family during the Afghanistan withdrawal, and an American strike cell in Syria that killed dozens of civilians with airstrikes. Many journalists will, rightfully, praise the New York Times for its reporting on U.S. airstrikes and the civilian cost. Far fewer will point out how the inhumanity of U.S. airstrikes were first revealed in 2013 by whistleblower Daniel Hale.
Struggling with the moral injury of taking part in America’s expanding drone wars, Daniel Hale took it as his civic duty to tell his fellow Americans the truth about what was being done in their name. In 2014, the former Air Force member and National Security Agency intelligence analyst leaked 17 documents to The Intercept that provided the basis for a series of articles detailing the full scope of the civilian deaths caused by U.S. drone strikes. Despite being billed by President Barack Obama, whose administration greatly expanded the drone wars, as “exceptionally surgical and precise,” what Hale’s leaks revealed was that not only was that not the case, but that what the U.S. was doing in the Middle East amounted to war crimes.
Drone whistleblower Daniel Hale was sent on Sunday to the notorious Communications Management Unit (CMU) at the maximum-security U.S. Penitentiary (USP) at Marion, Illinois to serve a 45-month sentence, rather than to the low-security prison at Butner, North Carolina, where federal Judge Liam O’Grady had recommended he go. Butner is a prison hospital complex, and O’Grady was cognizant of Daniel’s need for psychological therapy to deal with post traumatic stress disorder from his time as a U.S. Air Force drone operator. USP Marion, on the other hand, is a former “Supermax” prison that was built in the early 1960s as a replacement for Alcatraz. It was converted into a CMU to keep terrorists from being in contact with the media.
Drone whistleblower Daniel Hale, who pled guilty to violating the Espionage Act, was transferred from a jail in Virginia to a communication management unit (CMU) at United States Penitentiary Marion in southern Illinois. He is the first person convicted for an unauthorized disclosure of information to the press to be incarcerated in a CMU, which the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) claims is for terrorists and “high-risk inmates.” The decision may effectively cut him off from his entire support network, including friends and fellow whistleblowers who were by his side as federal prosecutors aggressively pursued charges against him.
Drone whistleblower Daniel Hale was sentenced to spend 45 months in federal prison. Once again, so-called justice in this country will subject a person of truth to the desolate confines of prison, not because of the rule of law and justice, but out of a continuing desire to retaliate against those who dare stand up for truth and accountability in our government.
For the past two weeks I’ve been ruminating about the prosecution of drone whistleblower Daniel Hale, who was sentenced on July 27 in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria. He was given 45 months in prison. With good behavior and drug and alcohol counseling, it’ll end up being closer to 18 months. I was in the courtroom and witnessed the sentencing and the vindictive behavior of the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg, who acted as though Hale’s case was a personal slight. Kromberg is also the prosecutor who has feverishly led the extradition case against Julian Assange. There is a myth about prosecutors fighting for justice. But people should know what prosecutors can really be like. They are government employees. They get promoted when they win convictions.
The Justice Department coerced Hale, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, on March 31 to plead guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act, a law passed in 1917 designed to prosecute those who passed on state secrets to a hostile power, not those who expose to the public government lies and crimes. Hale admitted as part of the plea deal to “retention and transmission of national security information” and leaking 11 classified documents to a journalist. If he had refused the plea deal, he could have spent 50 years in prison.
Drone whistleblower Daniel Hale was sentenced to 45 months in federal prison. It was a severe sentence but not the harshest sentence ever issued in an Espionage Act prosecution against a former United States government employee or contractor for the “unauthorized disclosure” of information. The sentence was not what U.S. prosecutors demanded. They wanted Hale to go to prison for nine years, but it is likely Judge Liam O’Grady issued a lower sentence after considering his mental health problems. This case is the first major Espionage Act conviction under President Joe Biden. Hale was a signals intelligence analyst in the U.S. Air Force, who was deployed to Afghanistan and stationed at Bagram Air Base.
In a 20-page sentencing memorandum in the case of the United States v. Daniel Everette Hale published on July 19, federal prosecutors argue vindictively that the former Air Force analyst stole classified information in order to “ingratiate himself” with journalists and that a “significant sentence is necessary to demonstrate that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a serious crime with significant consequences.”
A press conference was held on Saturday, July 17th on the High Line in New York City to support former Air Force “intelligence” analyst Daniel E. Hale, who faces 10 years in prison on July 27 after releasing government documents revealing atrocities of the U.S. drone program and details of its inner workings, such as the creation of “kill” lists. The event was organized by BanKillerDrones.org and held at an art installation by Sam Durant called “Untitled (drone).” On Tuesday, July 27th, truth-teller Daniel Hale is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court, possibly up to 10 years in prison, after pleading guilty to one count of violating the 1917 Espionage Act. He is accused of providing government documents to The Intercept and of anonymously writing a chapter for the 2016 book, The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government’s Secret Drone Warfare Program.
My next portrait for the Americans Who Tell the Truth project will be Daniel Hale, the former Air Force analyst and drone whistleblower who released classified documents showing that nearly 90% of the casualties of U.S. drone assassination missions are civilians—children, women, workers, farmers, and other people who show up as shadows on drone pilot computer screens and are subsequently rendered permanent shadows. Hale will be sentenced on July 27 in Alexandria, Virginia for the crime of truth telling. In all likelihood he will receive 10 years in prison—surely sufficient time to reflect on the error of his ways, which is, primarily, having an overactive conscience, believing that killing innocent civilians, no matter what the national security excuse, is murder.
Daniel Hale, an active-duty Air Force intelligence analyst, stood in the Occupy encampment in Zuccotti Park in October 2011 in his military uniform. He held up a sign that read “Free Bradley Manning,” who had not yet announced her transition. It was a singular act of conscience few in uniform had the strength to replicate. He had taken a week off from his job to join the protestors in the park. He was present at 6:00 am on October 14 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his first attempt to clear the park. He stood in solidarity with thousands of protestors, including many unionized transit workers, teachers, Teamsters and communications workers, who formed a ring around the park.
What has happened to whistleblower Daniel Hale is very troubling. A former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, he was arrested on May 4 in advance of his July 13 sentencing for blowing the whistle on the U.S. government’s deadly and illegal drone program. Justice Department prosecutors maintain that Hale had “violated the terms of his bail.” In court, his attorneys maintained “there were no violations committed by the defendant as alleged.” They’re right. The government is lying. Daniel explained what happened to me in a phone call from jail. And what happened is yet another injustice against this hero. For the record, Daniel is permitting me to make these details public. Like any whistleblower facing years, or possibly decades, in prison, he is depressed.