The Espionage Act and a Growing Threat to Press Freedom

Jameel Jaffer
June 25, 2019

The Justice Department’s recent indictment of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has alarmed press-freedom advocates, with even some of Assange’s fiercest critics warning that the government has crossed a perilous new frontier by using the Espionage Act to target a publisher. Another recent Espionage Act indictment has generated less controversy, presumably because its target is not a publisher but a government insider. Daniel Everette Hale, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, is alleged to have supplied classified documents to “an online news outlet”—apparently the Intercept, known for its aggressive reporting about war.

Hale provided intelligence support for U.S. drone strikes while he was deployed in Afghanistan, during the Obama Administration. Some of the documents he allegedly disclosed concerned strikes in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. The Intercept published the documents in the fall of 2015, at a time when U.S. drone strikes were especially controversial and Administration officials were contending that the strikes were lawful, necessary, and surgically precise. Hale believed that the strikes were counterproductive and immoral, and that Americans had a right to know how the military was deciding whom to kill.

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