Early Thursday morning, the Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against Daniel Everette Hale — a former intelligence analyst for the U.S. Air Force and National Security Agency (NSA) and later a defense contractor working for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) — for providing a reporter with classified government information. The reporter in question, although unnamed in the indictment, is Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of and journalist for the online publication The Intercept.
The indictment against Hale makes him the third Intercept source to be charged with leaking classified information to the outlet in less than two years. Notably, both of the government whistleblowers that have already been prosecuted and convicted by the Trump administration – Reality Winner and Terry Albury – were Intercept sources who were outed as whistleblowers by reporters working for the online publication.
The publication, which has long been associated with the documents shared by whistleblower Edward Snowden, has yet to fire any of the reporters responsible for these breaches that have seen two whistleblowers already imprisoned and third, Daniel Hale, likely to be imprisoned.
Despite its increasingly dismal track record, the publication – largely funded by government-linked tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar – continues to invite and “welcome” whistleblowers from the public and private sector and implores them to “consider sharing your information securely with us.”
“An utter failure of source protection. Again”
According to the Department of Justice website and the official indictment, Hale has been charged with obtaining national defense information, retention and transmission of national defense information, causing the communication of national defense information, disclosure of classified communications intelligence information, and theft of government property. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, meaning that Hale faces 50 years behind bars.
The indictment, which can be read in full here, details that Hale and “the reporter” (Scahill) communicated rather insecurely on several occasions, appearing at public events together, talking by phone and sending unencrypted text messages by phone.
Other information in the indictment shows that Scahill is clearly “the reporter” in question, given that “the reporter” in the indictment attended the Oscars in 2014 and held book events at the Washington, D.C. venue Busboys and Poets on April 29, 2013 and on June 8, 2013. During the June 8 book event, the indictment states that Hale was seated next to “the reporter” at an event where said reporter was promoting his book. A video taken at an event at Busboys and Poets held on June 8, 2013 shows Hale seated next to Scahill.
The indictment does not specify what led federal investigators to Hale several years after the events in question took place. Indeed, the indictment deals exclusively with events that took place between 2013 and 2015, and Hale’s house had been raided in August 2014, from which some of the evidence cited in the indictment was likely acquired. However, the Obama administration never pressed charges and it is unclear why the Trump administration has waited until now to do so, or if investigators acquired new information on Hale’s whistleblowing activities relatively recently. Hale, who appeared in the 2016 documentary National Bird about drone whistleblowers, had stated in that film that he anticipated being indicted at some point in time.
While the indictment suggests that the lack of secure communication with Scahill was a likely factor, there are other possibilities, such as the “friend” of Hale, noted in the indictment, with whom he discussed his relationship with Scahill.
Another possibility is that someone else at the Intercept other than Scahill was made aware of Hale’s identity, a point raised years ago by CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou and recently pointed out by independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone. After it was revealed that the Intercept had obtained information from a whistleblower on drone warfare, which turned out to be Daniel Hale, in 2015, Kiriakou tweeted: “New drone whistleblower at The Intercept. For God’s sake don’t let Matthew Cole learn his identity.”
Cole, as will be noted later on in this report, has been accused by Kiriakou for outing him as a journalistic source to the federal government and, two years after Kiriakou’s tweet, was believed to have helped lead federal investigators to Intercept source Reality Winner in 2017. Thus, it is possible that Cole or another employee of the online publication had learned of Hale’s identity from Scahill and then passed it along, either intentionally or inadvertently, to the government.
Betsy Reed, editor-in-chief of the Intercept, said in a brief statement that the publication “does not comment on matters relating to the identity of anonymous sources.”