Story by Simi Adeniyi

Daniel Hale: American Hero or Traitor?


There is a long list of government scandals, and an even longer list of whistleblowers jailed, blacklisted, or punished for revealing them. A whistleblower is an individual that reveals information about an organization that is of public concern. Daniel Hale, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, is one of the most recent. 

A descendant of the legendary Nathan Hale, an American spy during the Revolutionary War that was executed by the British, Daniel Hale followed in his ancestor’s footsteps by leaking classified government documents. The documents contained information about the American drone program that a.) contradicted information given by the Obama administration, and b.) was completely unknown to the American public. More specifically, what came to be dubbed as the ‘Drone Papers’ displayed the inner workings of the drone war, and what individuals were targeted by the American military. With initial requests for a sentence of nine years by the Department of Justice, one can only wonder what Hale leaked that caused such severe reactions.

The story starts at a 2013 antiwar conference in Washington D.C. Watching a Yemeni man tearfully recount his family’s efforts to get young men to leave Al Qaeda caused Hale to recall the moment that these young men. had died. He and his colleagues watched the attack from a base in Afghanistan, and cheered at the success. In 2013, Hale was finding it difficult to view it as a victory. Even in modern day, it is still difficult to envision a room full of people cheering at a display of death.

Around that time, Hale began taking government documents about drone warfare into his own home. What he found contradicted everything he and every other American had been told by the Obama Administration. Despite assurances that claimed otherwise, civilians were killed in drone strikes. Many times, when a drone tracked a target, that target would be surrounded by civilians and other innocent people, but the missile would go off anyway. Although President Obama had assured American citizens that this would not happen, it did.

Daniel Hale found this appalling. 

Believing himself to be correct, Hale leaked The Drone Papers (which are still available on the internet) to a journalist named Kerry Howley in 2019. He was arrested on May 9 of that year. 

“I believe it is wrong to kill, but it is especially wrong to kill the defenseless,” he would tell a Virginian federal judge on July 20, 2021.

Should Daniel Hale have been prosecuted?  Even though he leaked the documents to reveal human rights violations, Hale signed an NDA when he first signed to the position. U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, the judge that sentenced Hale, said, “You are not being prosecuted for speaking out about the drone program killing innocent people. You could have been a whistleblower…without taking any of these documents.” Additionally, as the Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg stated at the July 20 trial, Hale could have endangered those on the ground by releasing classified documents. 

However, it is the right of the American people to know what is going on within their government. Transparency is a vital element of democracy. How can citizens make informed decisions when they are unaware of the full picture and, most importantly, when they are being fed lies? Daniel Hale’s actions were not only valid, but necessary to dispel the widely held belief that drone warfare only targets those who deserve it. There is a notion held by American citizens that we are more righteous than other nations (specifically, nations in the Middle East). After all, how can a nation that stands for freedom possibly be in the wrong? The Drone Papers prove that this belief is unfounded, that the United States can commit atrocities in the name of liberty just as much as other countries can in the name of power.

Hale’s motivations were also under suspicion when he revealed that he originally wanted to be a journalist, with the prosecutors further arguing that he leaked the documents for fame.

Grace Rua, the co-president of Atholton’s Be The Change Club, disagreed with the sentiment that Hale’s motivation was self-aggrandizing. “I think what he did was very brave. The United States is supposed to be a democracy where people have a say…If information is being withheld from the people, then the people don’t get a say in the choices that they should.”

Furthermore, Hale’s actions may not have been for fame because he has not benefited from the publicity of this case. In Kerry Howley’s 2021 article about him, it was revealed that after leaking the Drone Papers, Hale’s mental health suffered severely. “He rarely left his room,” wrote Howley. Hale’s friends also expressed concern for him, with a friend of his, activist Noor Mir, saying, “I think it’s really hard for men to understand that it’s okay to feel really, really scared.”

Hale’s motivations aside, the Drone Papers are supported by many figures in American politics. Edward Snowden, another infamous whistleblower, took to Twitter in Hale’s defense. “His crime was telling the truth.” Representative Ilhan Omar wrote a letter to President Biden to pardon Hale on August 21. Daniel Hale even has his own website, with regular updates about his whereabouts and legal status.

I think that Hale’s story is important for the same reasons that other whistleblower stories are. Although they may be charged or forced into silence, whistleblowers know that their goal of stating the truth is worth whatever consequences they face. As of right now, Daniel Hale is still in jail, but he too seems satisfied with his decision. Echoing the words of the more noteworthy Hale at his June trial, Daniel Hale would proudly say, “I have but one life to give for my country.”

Posted by Simi Adeniyi

She/her, Atholton junior, lover of all things fictional

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