‘A Backdoor War on Journalists’ — Defending Rights & Dissent on Whistleblower Daniel Hale

by | May 3, 2021 | Commentary, Videos

Daniel Hale is the first whistleblower to be convicted under the Espionage Act during the Biden administration, raising questions about transparency and governance.

On March 31 2021, Daniel Hale pled guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. In 2015, under the Obama administration, Hale exposed the inner workings of the U.S. government’s targeted assassination program in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia in a special report published by The Intercept called the Drone Papers. Four years later, in May 2019, the former U.S. intelligence analyst and Air Force veteran was charged during the Trump administration with violating the Espionage Act.

Hale’s guilty plea makes him the first whistleblower to be convicted under the Espionage Act during the administration of President Joe Biden. Since his guilty plea, advocates for press freedom and human rights have come out to express their outrage at Hale’s conviction under an overbroad and outdated law, and to show support for the whistleblower. Hale’s sentencing is scheduled for July 13.

On April 6, in a webinar hosted by Defending Rights & Dissent, DRAD Policy Director Chip Gibbons and Jesselyn Radack, the head of Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts, were joined by panelists Thomas Drake and Jeffery Sterling – both whistleblowers who have faced Espionage Act charges – to discuss the case of Daniel Hale.

Panelists and moderators alike conveyed their dejection and anger at the outcome of Hale’s case. Radack was indignant that the case had managed to span three different presidential administrations. She remarked that the information Daniel Hale provided was within public interest and that he was “being made an example of” by the Biden administration.

Panelists voiced their concern about the government punishing Hale for exposing, in Gibbons’ words, “a number of shocking revelations about the U.S. drone program” – including that 90% of those killed by U.S. airstrikes were not the intended target.

Thomas Drake, former Espionage Act defendant and whistleblower, called the government’s actions “disturbing,” showing anger at its apparent desire to keep the realities of U.S. wartime activities and human rights abuses “classified.”  He said the Espionage Act’s broad definition of classified “National Defense information” allows the government to persecute at its will. Drake also claimed that the Espionage Act is being abused to silence dissent.

The Espionage Act allows the government to operate on double standards, as the panelists detailed. Radack described how the U.S. often allows people to leak information when it plays to its advantage – but issues hefty punishments to whistleblowers who expose misdeeds. “Revelations about crimes committed by the state is now considered a crime against the state,” according to Drake.

Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA employee who served 3 1/2 years in prison for violating the Espionage Act, claimed that its use is too one sided in favor of government, which needs little to no proof when indicting people for alleged offenses. He commented that the Espionage Act is being used in “retaliation” against people who reveal information that reveals the U.S. government’s wrongdoing – including human rights abuses.

As for the panelists’ view of the future, the outlook is bleak. “The government’s use of force, power, and suppression of truth is an indication of the de-evolution of democracy,” Drake remarked. Panelists agreed the government is attempting to establish a precedent to implicate the press and that it is only a matter of time before media outlets are prosecuted under the Espionage Act. In a closing statement, Radack summarized: “The war on whistleblowers is a backdoor war on journalists.”

Watch the full panel discussion here: 

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