US – Trump administration prosecutes third whistleblower under Espionage Act

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed that a former government employee was arrested on May 9 and charged with leaking classified information about drone warfare to a news outlet. If found guilty, he could face up to 50 years in prison.

Daniel Hale, a former government intelligence analyst who worked for the National Security Agency (NSA) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, was arrested on May 9 and charged in a federal court under the Espionage Act with five crimes related to the disclosure of classified information. This is the third whistleblower the Trump administration has prosecuted under the Espionage Act.



“The prosecution of individuals like Daniel Hale under the Espionage Act is a direct threat to investigative journalism, which often relies on whistleblowers to provide reporters with information of the public interest, whether it be due to moral, ethical or legal concerns,” said Sabine Dolan, interim Executive Director of RSF’s North America bureau. “We need stronger protections for whistleblowers in the United States, especially under an administration that has been explicit in its efforts to crack down on leaks. The use of the Espionage Act against whistleblowers must end.”



Though the reporter Hale shared information with is not named in the indictment, his description matches that of Jeremy Scahill, one of the founding editors of The Intercept, an investigative news website. According to the indictment, after Hale met Scahill in 2013 at a bookstore in Washington, DC, where Scahill was promoting a book he had just published, the two remained in contact and communicated primarily over encrypted messaging applications. Starting in 2014, Hale provided Scahill with several dozen documents—11 of which were classified—on the US drone program.



Since President Donald Trump took office, two whistleblowers—former NSA contractor Reality Winner and FBI agent Terry Albury—have already pleaded guilty to violating the Espionage Act, legislation adopted during World War I to prosecute individuals who shared government secrets with enemies of the United States. In October, Albury was sentenced to four years in prison, and Winner received a five year prison sentence in August. Prior to this, the Obama administration notoriously prosecuted eight whistleblowers under the Espionage Act during his eight years in office, which is more than any previous administration combined.

The United States ranks 48th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index, after dropping three places since last year.


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Updated on 13.05.2019