Politics

Trump administration charges former intelligence analyst with leaking secrets related to Obama's overseas counterterrorism operations

Key Points
  • The Trump administration has charged a former intelligence analyst with leaking classified information about the Obama administration's military campaigns against al-Qaeda, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday.
  • The leaked documents appear to be related to President Barack Obama's targeted killing program that involved the use of drones.
In this handout released by the U.S. Navy, an X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator is towed into the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) May 13, 2013 in the Atlantic Ocean.
U.S. Navy | Getty Images

The Trump administration has charged a former intelligence analyst with leaking classified information about the Obama administration's military campaigns against al-Qaeda, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday.

The leaked documents appear to be related to President Barack Obama's targeted killing program that involved the use of drones. 

Daniel Hale, who served in the Air Force and as an analyst for a defense contractor, was charged in March by a grand jury in Virginia with leaking secret and top secret documents in 2013 and 2014 to a reporter for an unnamed news outlet that appears to be The Intercept.

Hale faces up to 10 years in prison for each of the five charges brought against him, the Department of Justice wrote in a release. Hale is expected to make an appearance Thursday at a federal courthouse in Nashville, it said.

The Intercept did not respond to a request for comment. In a post on Twitter, Hale's attorney Jesselyn Radack wrote that the Justice Department has a "clear disdain for investigative journalism." 

In a statement, Gabe Rottman, the director of the Technology and Press Freedom Project at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, wrote that the indictment against Hale marked the Trump administration's seventh prosecution of a government employee alleged to have disclosed secrets to the press. 

"The Trump administration treats these cases — which, until a decade ago were virtually unheard of — as just another day at the office," Rottman wrote. "The normalization of leak prosecutions under the Espionage Act — a law meant for spies, not reporters' sources — should concern us all."

The indictment alleges that Hale printed 11 secret and top secret documents that were later published by the news outlet and in a book by the reporter, who appears to be investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill.

Six of those documents were published in October 2015, the indictment alleges. That month, The Intercept published "The Drone Papers," a series of investigative articles the outlet said was based on a cache of secret documents obtained from a whistleblower.

In one article in the series, Scahill wrote that the unnamed source provided the documents 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 indictment details a number of communications between Hale and the reporter, including three conversations over the encrypted messaging app Jabber.

The indictment says that in April 2013, Hale attended an event at a Washington book store where he met the reporter. Scahill was then promoting his book "Dirty Wars" about the United States' increasing use of special operations forces and drones in the Middle East. "Dirty Wars" was also released as a documentary film that year.

In May, Hale texted a friend that the reporter "wants me to tell my story about working with drones at the opening screening of his documentary about war and the use of drones."

In July, the indictment alleges, Hale provided the reporter with a copy of his unclassified resume and highlighted his experience operating "payloads on remotely piloted vehicles."

The indictment alleges that the following February, Hale used a work computer to print six documents that were "unrelated to his work" as an analyst. Four hours later, Hale and the reporter discussed meeting in Washington, according to a text exchange included in the indictment.

In the following months, the indictment alleges, Hale provided 5 more classified documents that were later published by the outlet. The last documents noted in the indictment were published in December 2016.

Scahill and the staff of The Intercept published a book, "The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program," in May of that year.

The Intercept has come under scrutiny for its handling of documents provided by sources in the past.

Reality Winner, a former Air Force linguist, was sentenced to more than five years in prison last year after being convicted of leaking a document to The Intercept related to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Betsy Reed, The Intercept's editor-in-chief, writing about the Winner case in 2017, said, "it is clear that we should have taken greater precautions to protect the identity of a source who was anonymous even to us."