A federal judge sentenced Daniel Hale last week to 45 months in prison after the former servicemember and intelligence contractor pled guilty in March to transmitting national defense information to the news media. Prosecutors charged Hale in 2019 with disclosing documents about the United States’ “targeted killing” drone warfare program.
Hale’s sentence is the fourth-longest sentence handed down by a court for violations of the Espionage Act, following Chelsea Manning, Reality Winner and Terry Albury (and the third longest in a civilian court, as Manning was sentenced to 420 months following her court martial, though that sentence was later commuted by former President Barack Obama).
The sentence is significantly lighter than the nine years prosecutors had requested. Hale had sought a sentence of 12 to 18 months.
The Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief at the sentencing phase in Hale’s case, arguing, among other things, that cases involving journalistic sources raise First Amendment considerations not present in traditional spying prosecutions, and that sentences in press leak cases should reflect that distinction.
The brief also noted, as surveyed in our leaks chart, that both the number of prosecutions and the length of sentences for those who disclose national defense information to the media under the Espionage Act have been trending troublingly upward in recent years.
The Espionage Act was passed shortly after the U.S. entered World War I, and its legislative history reflects Congress’s concern with actual spying. Indeed, Congress expressly rejected a media censorship provision pushed by the Wilson administration, strongly indicating that it never intended for the law to be used as an “Official Secrets Act,” a law that explicitly criminalizes the disclosure and publication to and by the press of national defense information.
With Hale’s sentencing, all but two of the 18 post-2009 journalistic source cases have been resolved (the Edward Snowden indictment remains pending and Joshua Schulte faces a retrial). The Julian Assange prosecution and extradition request also remains active.
The Technology and Press Freedom Project at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press uses integrated advocacy — combining the law, policy analysis, and public education — to defend and promote press rights on issues at the intersection of technology and press freedom, such as reporter-source confidentiality protections, electronic surveillance law and policy, and content regulation online and in other media. TPFP is directed by Reporters Committee attorney Gabe Rottman. He works with Stanton Foundation National Security/Free Press Legal Fellow Grayson Clary and Technology and Press Freedom Project Legal Fellow Mailyn Fidler.