A former Air Force intelligence analyst who leaked information about American drone operations abroad was sentenced to nearly four years in prison Tuesday.
The 33-year-old was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison Tuesday morning in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.
Department of Justice prosecutors had sought a nine-year prison sentence for Hale, while his attorneys proposed a sentence of 12 to 18 months.
“For those like Hale, who unilaterally decide to disclose classified information, the existence of criminal penalties that are theoretically harsh but practically lenient is not sufficient. Hale and other persons similarly situated seem to believe either that they will not be caught, or that the punishment will be de minimis,” prosecutors wrote.
“A substantial sentence is needed also to account for Hale’s blatant disregard for the consequences of his conduct.”
Hale pleaded guilty without a plea deal in March and admitted to violating the Espionage Act by giving over 150 pages of classified records to a reporter.
Some of those top-secret documents were featured in Intercept stories in 2015.
Hale penned an 11-page letter to the judge in which he said he was traumatized by his experiences analyzing drone video feeds while in Afghanistan and the deaths of civilians and others not directly targeted in the drone strikes.
“I came to believe that the policy of drone assassination was being used to mislead the public that it keep[s] us safe, and when I finally left the military, still processing what I’d been [a part] of, I began to speak out, believing my participation in the drone program to have been deeply wrong,” Hale wrote.
“By the rules of engagement, it may have been permissable for me to have helped to kill those men — whose language I did not speak, customs I did not understand, and crimes I could not identify — in the gruesome manner that I did watch them die.
“But how could it be considered honorable of me to continuously have laid in wait for the next opportunity to kill unsuspecting persons, who, more often than not, are posing no danger to me or any other person at the time?”
Prosecutors argued that the documents Hale leaked were not related to programs he had worked on, so he did not have the authority to assess them.
“Hale was motivated not by transparency but by self-aggrandizement,” they wrote.
Journalist Sonia Kennebeck, who featured Hale in a 2016 drone documentary, argued that he spoke out for “humanitarian and educational purposes.”
Hale’s attorneys added that his home was searched in 2014 before the documents were published and he was not charged or arrested until 2019.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.