A Tennessee man on Tuesday was sentenced to nearly four years in jail for obtaining classified information and leaking it to a reporter.
Daniel Hale, 33, of Nashville, was sentenced on Tuesday to 45 months in prison.
Hale pleaded guilty to retention and transmission of national defense information on March 31.
“I am here because I stole something that was never mine to take—precious human life,” Hale said during the sentencing hearing. “I couldn’t keep living in a world in which people pretend that things weren’t happening that were. Please, your honor, forgive me for taking papers instead of human lives.”
U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady told Hale that he could have taken other actions to raise concerns besides leaking the information, including refusing certain commands or resigning from the military.
O’Grady said the sentence, which fell between that sought by Hale and prosecutors, was necessary to deter others from leaking classified information, the Associated Press reported.
Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information about the National Security Agency in 2013, called Hale “one of the great American Whistleblowers,” adding that Hale’s crime “was telling this truth: 90 [percent] of those killed by U.S. drones are bystanders, not the intended targets.”
But prosecutors argued that Hale knew the documents he shared risked causing serious, and in some cases exceptionally grave, damage to the national security” and that they were later found in part of ISIS materials.
Hale began talking with the reporter in April 2013 after they met at a book event at a bookstore. At the time, Hale was enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and assigned to the National Security Agency.
Hale met with the reporter in person multiple times and communicated with them over the phone, text message, email, and an encrypted messaging platform.
The following year, while working as a defense contractor at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Hale printed six classified documents unrelated to his work and soon after exchanged messages with the reporter, who later published all of the documents.
At one point, Hale texted a friend and said the reporter “wants me to tell my story about working with drones at the opening screening of his documentary about the war and the use of drones.”
Hale provided at least 17 documents in total to the reporter.
The reporter wasn’t identified in the Justice Department statement but information included in the charging document appears to point to Jeremy Scahill of online news outlet The Intercept.