(CNN)A former intelligence analyst and military service member has pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining classified national defense information and disclosing it to a reporter, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.
Daniel Everette Hale, of Nashville, Tennessee, who previously served as an enlisted airman in the US Air Force, sent classified documents and material to a reporter he came into contact with initially while working at the National Security Agency and later while employed by a defense contractor and assigned to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, according to the Justice Department’s announcement. Hale was accused, in part, of printing 36 documents from his NGA computer in 2014, including 23 unrelated to his duties at the agency, and providing “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 classified as Top Secret or Secret and marked as such.”Hale was arrested and charged in May 2019. His indictment came amid a spate of court cases the Trump-era Justice Department opened against alleged government leakers. They ranged from charges against two individuals who allegedly passed internal banking information to news outlets and others and to the high-profile arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in April 2019 following his indictment for conspiracy to commit a computer crime. Some of the cases prompted questions over press freedom and furthered critics’ concerns over the Trump administration’s response to damaging news stories.Read MoreAssistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement Wednesday that “Hale has now admitted what the evidence at trial would have conclusively shown: that he took classified documents from his work at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, documents he had no right to retain, and that he sent them to a reporter, knowing all along that what he was doing was against the law.” “This conduct undermined the efforts of our Intelligence Community to keep us safe,” Demers continued. “Hale’s plea is another step in the Department’s ongoing efforts to prosecute and deter leaks of classified information.”The release from the Justice Department did not specify who the reporter was or what outlet they worked for. The indictment also did not name the reporter or news organization, but information included in the document appeared to refer to Jeremy Scahill, a co-founder of the investigative news outlet The Intercept.Hale first met the reporter in April 2013 at a Washington, DC, bookstore, while he was working as a cleared defense contractor at NGA, according to the indictment. He messaged a friend, saying that the reporter wanted him to talk about “working with drones” at a documentary screening, the indictment stated. Hale and the reporter continued communicating via an encrypted messaging service.The 11 classified documents that were published by the reporter’s online news outlet, and later in a book, included PowerPoint presentations on military and counterterrorism operations and a document describing a military campaign targeting al Qaeda overseas.In a statement at the time, The Intercept’s editor-in-chief Betsy Reed said she would not comment on matters “relating to the identity of anonymous sources” but emphasized the significance of the leaked documents that the paper had reported on.”These documents detailed a secret, unaccountable process for targeting and killing people around the world, including U.S. citizens, through drone strikes,” Reed said. “They are of vital public importance, and activity related to their disclosure is protected by the First Amendment.”