DOJ charges former intel contractor with drone leaks

Daniel Everette Hale, a former Leidos contractor, is charged with passing a series of classified documents related to U.S. drone warfare and counterterrorism policy to a reporter.

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The Department of Justice has charged Daniel Everette Hale, a former U.S. Air Force airman, National Security Agency intelligence analyst and Leidos contractor, with leaking classified national security documents to a journalist.

Hale is accused of  leaking a series of classified documents related to U.S. drone warfare and counterterrorism policy in 2014 and 2015 while working as a contractor assigned to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

According to the indictment, Hale and an unnamed reporter primarily communicated through the encrypted chat app Jabber starting in September 2013, approximately five months before Hale allegedly began passing along classified documents that were later published by the reporter.

Hale is charged with unlawfully obtaining, retaining and transmitting, causing the communication of and disclosing national defense information, as well as theft of government property. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The details and timing of Hale's communications with the reporter as well as the content of the documents allegedly leaked strongly suggest that the journalist is Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept. Scahill included classified documents on U.S. drone warfare policy in a series of articles published in 2015. Law enforcement sources told NBC that Scahill was the journalist in question.

Investigators were able to piece together evidence and clues about Hale's activities through activity on his classified NGA work computer as well as searches conducted on his unclassified NSA work computer going back to 2013. That system regularly warned users through a log-in banner that their computer activity was being monitored for "personnel misconduct, law enforcement and counterintelligence investigations."

Government investigators also found two thumb drives at Hale's residence, one of which contained a single page from one of the leaked documents and another that contained Tor software and the Tails operating system, both tools for maintaining digital secrecy. Hale also had a number of text and email exchanges around the same time with both the reporter and an unnamed third-party confidant, to whom he relayed that the reporter "wants me to tell my story about working with drones."

This is the second time the government has prosecuted an individual for passing classified information to The Intercept in the last two years. In June 2017, Reality Winner, a former Air Force officer and contractor at Pluribus International Corporation, was arrested and charged with removing and mailing a classified intelligence report to The Intercept about 2016 Russian hacking attempts on U.S. election infrastructure.

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