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Ex-aviator says guilt over drone strikes prompted him to leak secrets

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (AP) – A former Air Force intelligence analyst has said his guilt for participating in deadly drone strikes in Afghanistan led him to divulge government secrets about the drone program to a journalist.

Daniel Hale of Nashville, Tennessee, is due to be sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria after pleading guilty to violating espionage law by disclosing top secret documents.

In court documents filed Thursday, Hale’s lawyers called for him to be sentenced to 12 to 18 months, which would be well below sentencing guidelines.

In an 11-page handwritten letter from the Alexandria prison where he is being held, Hale describes what led him to break the law, describing his regret and horror when he saw gruesome videos of Afghans being killed in gone because his work helped find them.

He said that at the time of his deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, his job was to track down cell phone signals linked to people suspected of being enemy combatants.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t question the rationale for my actions,” Hale wrote.

His guilt is compounded by the clinical nature of the drone strike program, in which Afghan targets are killed in their daily lives – sometimes with innocent civilians killed as collateral damage – rather than on a traditional battlefield.

“The victorious rifleman, unmistakably remorseful, at least keeps his honor intact by having faced his foe on the battlefield,” Hale wrote. “But what could I have done to face the undeniable cruelties I have perpetrated?”

As a result, he said, his conscience compelled him to divulge details of the program to an investigative reporter he had previously met. The documents showed, among other things, that the drone program was not as precise as the government claimed to prevent civilian deaths.

Hale disclosed the documents after leaving the Air Force and accepting civilian employment with a contractor assigned to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, where he worked for a brief stint in 2014 as a toponymist, using his language expertise. Chinese to help label the cards. .

Hale’s lawyers argue in court documents that his altruistic motives and the government’s failure to show any real harm as a result of the leaks should count for a light sentence.

“He committed the offense to draw attention to what he believed to be immoral government conduct under cover of secrecy and contrary to public statements by then President Obama regarding the alleged accuracy of the drone program of the US military, ”defense attorney Todd Richman said. and Cadence Mertz wrote.

Prosecutors, however, say the disclosure of the classified documents could potentially cause serious damage. In the sentencing documents, prosecutors Gordon Kromberg and Alexander Berrang write that documents leaked by Hale were found in an Internet compilation of material designed to help Islamic State fighters avoid detection.

“(A) As a result of Hale’s actions, the world’s most vicious terrorists obtained documents classified by the United States as ‘Secret’ and ‘Top Secret’ – and believed these documents were valuable enough to be released. to their own supporters in their own textbooks, ”Kromberg and Berrang wrote.

Prosecutors say Hale’s leaks were more serious than those made by Reality Winner, a former National Security Agency contractor who received a five-year sentence, the longest sentence for a whistleblower sued for leaking classified documents to a journalist under the Espionage Act.

Prosecutors are not asking for a specific prison sentence, but say an appropriate sentence would be “considerably longer” than the 63 months imposed on Winner.

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