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Analyst pleads for leaking secrets about drone program

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (AP) – A former Air Force intelligence analyst pleaded guilty Wednesday to leaking classified documents to a reporter about military drone strikes against Al-Qaida and other terrorist targets .

The guilty plea of ​​Daniel Hale, 33, of Nashville, Tennessee, comes just days before he is tried in federal court in Alexandria, Va., For violating the espionage law of the era of the First World War.

Hale admitted to leaking a dozen secret and top-secret documents to a reporter in 2014 and 2015, while working for a subcontractor as an analyst at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). Although court documents never specified the recipient of the leak, details of the case make it clear that the documents were handed over to Jeremy Scahill, a reporter for The Intercept, who used the documents in connection with a series of critical reports on the conduct of the army. drones hit foreign targets.

The original indictment against Hale states that he contacted the reporter in April 2013 while still drafted into the Air Force and assigned to the National Security Agency. The leaks continued after Hale became a private entrepreneur and was assigned to NGA.

Hale’s lawyers sought unsuccessfully last year to have the case dismissed on the basis of the First Amendment. They also argued that the case was a selective and vindictive prosecution.

Defense attorneys said that while Hale was being punished for leaking information about negative aspects of the drone program, the government did not appear concerned about anonymous leaks from government officials about successful strikes.

More generally, they said that the use of the law on espionage against whistleblowers had a chilling effect on freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The law has been used by several presidential administrations in recent years against several whistleblowers. It also makes it possible to prosecute journalists who receive and publish the information.

The Eastern District of Virginia, where Hale pleaded guilty, has been a frequent spot over the years for cases of leaks and whistleblowers.

Prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The two remain abroad despite efforts by the United States to secure their extradition.

In 2015, a judge sentenced former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling to 3.5 years, who was convicted of revealing government secrets to a New York Times reporter. In 2013, another former CIA man, John Kiriakou, was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for pleading guilty to disclosing the identity of a secret officer to a journalist.

Kiriakou’s indictment in 2012 prompted then CIA director David Petraeus to issue a statement reminding employees of his agency of the need to keep their work secret. In 2015, Petraeus pleaded guilty in North Carolina federal court to a charge of unauthorized deletion and retention of classified information. He was sentenced to probation.

Hale has pleaded guilty to one count of illegal retention and transmission of national defense information, which is part of the Espionage Act. The other four charges against him were not dropped as part of the plea deal, as would be typical, but were put on hold, at least giving the theoretical opportunity to bring the other charges to trial. prosecution in court.

Media advocates and whistleblowers have urged President Joe Biden’s administration to reverse the prosecution of the leak cases, particularly under the Espionage Act.

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