Alexandria, Virginia. A previous Air Force intelligence analyst who once helped find targets for US drone strikes has been sentenced to 45 months in prison for leaking top-secret details about the program.
Daniel Hill, 33, told a federal judge he felt compelled to leak information to a journalist out of guilt over his participation in a program believed to be indiscriminately killing civilians in Afghanistan far from the battlefield.
“It is mistaken to kill,” Hill said in a defiant statement accepting responsibility for his actions, but pleaded for mercy. “It is especially mistaken to kill defenseless people.”
But US District Judge Liam O’Grady told Hill he had other ways to express his concerns besides leaking to a journalist. Citing the need to hinder others from unlawful disclosure, he imposed a harsher sentence of the 12 to 18 month period requested by Hill’s lawyers but far more lax than the longer sentence requested by the plaintiffs.
“You could have resigned from the army,” O’Grady told Hill, or tell your commanders you wouldn’t do it anymore.
The allegation is one of a series of cases the Justice Department has brought in recent years against current and previous government officials who disclosed classified secrets to journalists. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced unused guidelines this month to forbid prosecutors from subpoenaing journalists’ records in leak investigations, but the department has shown no signs of scaling back efforts to indict officials it determines have leaked national security information.
Prosecutors argued that Hill, who was dispatched to Afghanistan in August 2012 and was honorably discharged less than a year later, had offended the government’s trust and knew that the documents he was sharing “threatening to cause grave, and in some exceptionally grave cases, hurt to national security.” But he leaked them anyway. Prosecutors said the documents Hill leaked were found in an online collection of materials designed to aid Islamic State fighters avoid detection.
Hill’s stated reasoning that he was trying to expose the grievances surrounding the Army’s drone program has earned him support among whistleblower advocates and among critics of the government’s war effort, some of whom carried supportive banners outside the courtroom and attended Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.
But prosecutors painted a distinct picture. Assistant US Attorney Gordon Krumberg said the effect of Hill’s actions was not to contribute to a public debate about the war but to “endanger the people who are fighting.”
The Justice Department said Hill began contacting a journalist in April 2013 while he was still in the Air Force. The following February, while working as a defense contractor for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, Hill printed six classified documents, each of which was subsequently published. Finally, he admitted leaking nearly a dozen classified and top-secret documents to a reporter in 2014 and 2015.
While the court papers never identified the recipient of the leak, details about the case make it clear that the documents were handed over to Jeremy Scahill, a reporter with The Intercept, who used the documents as part of a series of critical reports on how the military was conducting. Drone strikes on foreign targets.
The arguments on Tuesday were less about whether Hill leaked the records – he openly admits to it – but about the rationale for his actions and what role he should play in the sentence’s account.
Defense attorneys wrote in: “He committed the crime to draw attention to what he believed to be unethical government behavior committed under a cloak of secrecy and in contrast to then-President Obama’s public statements regarding the alleged accuracy of the US military’s drone program.” deposited final week.
Prosecutors painted Hill as eager to admire journalists, but Hill described himself as disturbed by the role his actions may have played in the loss of innocent lives. He worked as a signals intelligence analyst, where he helped identify drone strikes targets by tracking moveable phone signals.
He said he wanted to dispel the notion that “drone warfare keeps us safe,” and the document he leaked showed that the drone program was not as correct as the government claimed in terms of avoiding killing civilians.
When Hale read aloud from a prepared statement, his voice occasionally surged with emotion, repeatedly taking responsibility for his actions but lamenting the acts of war more than “taking the papers”
He said he was pained by the possibility that his actions in the drone program had encouraged terrorists in the United States, citing the case of Omar Mateen, the gunman who massacred nightclub-goers in Orlando, Florida, in 2016 and openly demanded it. The United States stops bombing Iraq and Syria.