Updated at 2:10 p.m. ET
Federal agents have arrested a former intelligence analyst and charged him with giving classified information to a reporter. The Justice Department says Daniel Everette Hale, 31, of Nashville, Tenn., used his top-secret computer to print out dozens of documents related to counterterrorism operations while working as a contractor for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, or NGA.
The instances in question occurred nearly five years ago, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday. Hale first met the reporter in question in April 2013, when he was still in the U.S. Air Force and working for the National Security Agency, according to the court documents. He began sharing information the next year, when he had left the military and was working for defense contractor Leidos at the NGA.
The Justice Department said in a statement that Hale met with the reporter “on multiple occasions, and, at times, communicated with the reporter via an encrypted messaging platform.”
Starting in February 2014, according to the department, Hale printed six classified documents that were later published by the reporter’s news outlet.
It goes on to state:
“While employed as a cleared defense contractor for NGA, Hale printed from his Top Secret computer 36 documents, including 23 documents unrelated to his work at NGA. Of the 23 documents unrelated to his work at NGA, Hale provided at least 17 to the reporter and/or the reporter’s online news outlet, which published the documents in whole or in part. Eleven of the published documents were marked as Top Secret or Secret.”
The indictment does not identify the reporter by name. But it says the reporter made a documentary about the U.S. military’s use of drones, and was a scheduled speaker at “a Washington, D.C. restaurant/bookstore” on or about April 29, 2013.
Those details point to Jeremy Scahill, a founding editor of The Intercept and former reporter for The Nation who wrote the book Dirty Wars, and produced a documentary of the same name, about U.S. drone campaigns and operations in Afghanistan and other countries. On the evening of April 29, 2013, Scahill was the featured speaker at the Busboys and Poets bookstore in Washington. The Intercept also published lengthy investigative stories about America’s drone programs on specific dates mentioned in the indictment.
The Intercept has not confirmed whether it is the news outlet in question, or whether Scahill is the reporter mentioned. But the organization issued a statement about the charges against the “alleged drone strike whistleblower” shortly after news of Hale’s arrest emerged.
“These documents detailed a secret, unaccountable process for targeting and killing people around the world, including U.S. citizens, through drone strikes,” Intercept Editor-in-Chief Betsy Reed said in the statement. “They are of vital public importance, and activity related to their disclosure is protected by the First Amendment.”
Reed did not mention Hale or Scahill specifically, saying the news site “does not comment on matters relating to the identity of anonymous sources.”
In an interview with NPR, The Intercept’s Jim Risen, its senior national security correspondent and director of First Look Media’s Press Freedom Defense Fund, said the indictment is the latest sign that “the Trump administration is targeting aggressive national security reporting at The Intercept” and other media outlets.
It’s a continuation, Risen said, of a crackdown on leaks that started with the Bush administration after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, continued with the Obama administration, and has now been taken to new levels under President Trump. Risen said it amounts to a prolonged effort to criminalize journalism.
“This is a new phenomenon in America, and people think it’s somehow normal,” Risen said. “But it’s not normal.”
As for the federal allegations that Hale improperly handled classified documents, Risen said, “That’s what sources do. Sources provide information to reporters.”
The FBI office in Baltimore says it led the investigation of Hale, and that FBI agents in Tennessee arrested him Thursday morning. His case is being handled by the U.S. District Court for Virginia’s Eastern District.
Hale could face up to 50 years in prison if he’s convicted of the five charges against him, which range from disclosure of classified intelligence to theft of government property. He was expected to appear in federal court in Nashville later Thursday.
Investigators found evidence in Hale’s home that included two thumb drives, according to the indictment. One contained a page of a document marked “Secret” and the other held software related to Tor, the anonymity service, and the Tails operating system, which is meant to prevent Internet spying. They also found at least one government document on his home computer, along with contact information for the reporter, the indictment adds.
The Justice Department says Hale improperly obtained documents that range from secret records about a campaign targeting al-Qaida to PowerPoint presentations about military operations. Another document held information about the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE — the government’s stockpile of data that informs federal efforts to screen people who are known to be or are suspected of being involved in terrorism.
It’s not clear what factors led to Hale’s arrest years after his alleged crimes. The earliest court filings in the case date from March 2019, when a grand jury’s sealed indictment of Hale was filed. On the same day of that filing, an arrest warrant was issued for Hale. With the suspected leaker in custody, the indictment has now been unsealed.
Court records list Hale’s defense attorney as Abbe Lowell, a veteran lawyer who has recently been in the news for representing Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.