The saga of former intelligence analyst Daniel Hale came to a close today in a Northern Virginia Federal Court when Judge Liam O’Grady sentence Hale to 45 months in prison. Hale leaked secrets to The Intercept, and was indicted in December 2019. In March 2021, Hale pleaded guilty to “illegally obtaining classified national defense information and disclosing it to a reporter.”

Daniel Hale Handled Classified Information Regularly

To recap Hale’s story, from 2009-2013 Hale served as an enlisted airman within the U.S. Air Force assigned to the National Security Agency (NSA) as an intelligence analyst and deployed to Afghanistan. In 2013, he left the Air Force and secured work as a government contractor with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) as a political geography analyst. He held a TS/SCI clearance and handled classified information on a daily basis.

During his 9-month tenure at the NGA, Hale used his access to classified networks to search out classified information for passage to The Intercept. The court documents detail how he garnered 36 classified documents, providing 17 to the reporter.

U.S. Drone Program

Prior to sentencing Hale wrote an 11-page letter to Judge O’Grady in which he notes how he suffers from depression and PTSD. In his letter, Hale provides his explanation as to “how it is I came to violate the Espionage Act.” He describes in the letter, the feelings he had during his deployment in Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst charged with cell phone geolocation and how his work was used in drone strikes. He states how his conscience required him to contact “an investigative reporter, with whom I had had an established prior relationship and told him that I had something the American people needed to know.”

A great many view Hale as blowing the whistle on the U.S. lethal drone program and its indiscriminate nature. Public opinion pieces calling for support for Hale and his actions are plentiful. Judge O’Grady received numerous letters from individuals who knew of Hale’s case, but did not know Hale personally, heralding his actions and asking for leniency be shown toward Hale. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University submitted a 40-page Amici Curiae signed by 17 constitutional law professors in which an argument is made that the Espionage Act is not an Official Secrets Act, and how the act serves to “chill” public interest on whistleblowing and reporting.

Stealing Classified Information is Not Whistleblowing

The prosecution’s view was different. The court documents show us how he stole documents from the classified information system at the NGA on seven separate occasions over a four-month period.  It has been well documented how some of the classified information revealed to The Intercept by Hale wound its way into training documentation used by ISIS.

The prosecution requested Hale be sentenced to 11-years incarceration. In their sentencing memo, they compare Hale to Reality Winner and Terry Albury, both whom shared classified information with The Intercept. The prosecution points out that in March 2021, that it was Hale who submitted his own statement of facts and entered his guilty plea. In his statement of facts, Hale “admitted that he stole and transmitted [to the reporter] documents which contained “national defense information” marked Secret and Top Secret.” They continue how this statement of facts omitted their belief that the disclosure of the documents caused “serious and in some cases exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.” The prosecution highlights how Hale began his search and retrieval efforts of classified information three weeks after having started work at the NGA.

Unfortunately, Hale won’t be the last to steal documents and provide them to the media. How did he steal the classified documents? Hale used the same technique Albury and Winner used. He printed out the classified documents and gave them to the reporter.

Today’s sentence of 45 months is less than Winner and Albury. Winner received a 63-month sentence, and Albury received a 48-month sentence.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of