Statement on Daniel Hale’s Pleading

Drone whistleblower, Daniel Hale

Daniel Hale today entered a guilty plea to a single count under the Espionage Act of 1917. This plea will likely result in a fraction of the decades in prison time that the government originally sought.

Daniel Hale may have pleaded to a count under the Espionage Act, but he is not a spy. He was accused of giving an investigative journalist truthful information in the public interest about the secretive US drone warfare program. That information revealed gross human rights violations, and that drones were more deadly and less accurate than the US presented publicly. Ninety percent of people killed were not the intended target—including an American father and his teenage son. Articles, books, and documentaries featuring his disclosures have won numerous awards.

There are many other laws that could be used to prosecute unauthorized disclosure of secret government information, but the government repeatedly chooses the heavy-handed Espionage Act to punish media sources and whistleblowers. The government’s use of the Espionage Act against media sources has everything to do with chilling speech and journalism and nothing to do with justice. A number of drone veterans have come forward to speak out about the lies, brutality, and mistakes of these extrajudicial assassinations. The government knows that public scrutiny would threaten its ability to carry on drone warfare, and so to stanch the tide of dissent, it used the Espionage Act to send a chilling message.

Worse, courts have held that a whistleblower’s motive is irrelevant in an Espionage Act trial, so the defendant can’t explain his salutary intent to a jury. This is a legal precedent that impels guilty pleas by removing the most obvious defense: that the whistleblower revealed information in the public interest to expose government misconduct.

The U.S. government’s policy of punishing people who provide journalists with information in the public interest is a profound threat to free speech, free press, and a healthy democracy.

Hale himself was never accused of disseminating these documents directly to the public. Hale, like many whistleblowers who became media sources — including Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, and Reality Winner — gave information to journalists. Journalists, after consultation with the government, chose what information to make public. Moreover, the government was not able to identify a single person harmed or killed by revealing the truth. But journalists have identified scores of innocent civilians, including many children, who were injured, maimed, and killed under the government’s veil of lies.

Classified information is published in the press every day; in fact, the biggest leaker of classified information is the U.S. government. However, the Espionage Act is used uniquely to punish those sources who give journalists information that embarrasses the government or exposes its lies.

Every whistleblower jailed under the Espionage Act is a threat to the work of national security journalists and the sources they rely upon to hold the government accountable.


Jesselyn Radack heads the Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts. Her work focuses on the issues of secrecy, surveillance, torture, and drones, where she has been at the forefront of challenging the government’s unprecedented war on whistleblowers.

Among her clients are national security and intelligence community employees who have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act for allegedly mishandling classified information, including Daniel Hale, Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, and John Kiriakou.