A former intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency was arrested Thursday morning and charged with providing classified information and documents to a reporter.
Former airman Daniel Everette Hale, 31, of Nashville, Tennessee, is scheduled to make his initial appearance in federal court later Thursday, the Justice Department said.
He is 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.”
The indictment of Hale comes amid a spate of court cases the Justice Department has opened against alleged government leakers — ranging 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 last month following his indictment for conspiracy to commit a computer crime.
Some of the cases have prompted questions over press freedom and furthered critics’ concerns over the Trump administration’s response to damaging news stories.
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 evidence, according to the indictment, was found on Hale’s home computer and two thumb drives, and his cell phone contact list included the reporter’s contact information. One of the thumb drives contained Tor software and Tails operating system, which the reporter’s online news outlet wrote about in instructions for readers to anonymously leak documents to them.
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.
The indictment does not name the reporter or news organization, but information included in the document appears to refer to Jeremy Scahill, a co-founder of the investigative news outlet The Intercept.
In a statement, The Intercept’s editor-in-chief 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. They are of vital public importance, and activity related to their disclosure is protected by the First Amendment,” Betsy Reed said.
“The alleged whistleblower faces up to 50 years in prison. No one has ever been held accountable for killing civilians in drone strikes,” Reed said.
Scahill referred CNN to The Intercept for comment.
This is not the first time a source used by The Intercept has been charged with leaking. Reality Winner, a former government contractor, was sentenced last year to 63 months in prison after her 2017 arrest on charges of leaking an NSA report about a 2016 Russian military intelligence cyberattack to the news organization.
A former FBI agent, Terry Albury, was also sentenced last year to four years in prison stemming from charges that he leaked information about the FBI’s recruiting work to The Intercept.
Hale faces five charges, including 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 of the five counts carry a maximum of 10 years.
This story has been updated.
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.