Another Whistleblower Indicted

Another Whistleblower Indicted

The Department of Justice has unsealed an indictment this morning for Daniel Everette Hale, of Nashville, Tennessee.  Hale was enlisted in the US Air Force from 2009-2013.  He became a Language Analyst, and was assigned to work at the National Security Agency from December 2011 through May 2013.

He served as an Intelligence Analyst in Afghanistan for a Department of Defense Joint Special Operations Task Force from March 2012 through August 2012.  Hale held a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance.  After leaving the Air Force, Hale worked for a defense contractor, Leidos.

Hale is charged with five counts related to obtaining classified information and giving classified information to an unnamed reporter.  According to the indictment, this information was then published by the reporter on an Online news outlet, as well as in a book written by the reporter.

The unnamed reporter Hale is alleged to have given information to is likely Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept.  Scahill and the Intercept published The Drone Papers in 2015 based on a cache of classified documents obtained by the Intercept.  Scahill also wrote the book The Assassination Complex which was published in 2017.

Hale described having his home searched in 2014 by the FBI in the documentary National Bird.  He was informed at that time he was under investigation for espionage and he states in National Bird that he would “probably get charged with a crime” and would “have to fight to stay out of prison.”

Hale’s attorney, Jesselyn Raddack, is quoted in The Washington Post as saying “the allegations against Hale are allegations of whistleblowing.  The Intercept’s reporting on the US government’s secretive drone assassination program shed much needed light on a lethal program in dire need of more oversight.”

No details are given in the indictment as to how Hale ended up under investigation for leaking classified material.  In video, Hale can be seen sitting with Scahill during a presentation at a book store on June 8, 2013.  The indictment states that on or about June 8, 2013, “Hale sat next to the Reporter at a public event at the Bookstore to promote the Reporter’s book.”  According to the indictment, this occurred before Hale leaked any documents to The Intercept.

Hale is not the first person known to face charges after leaking information to The Intercept.  Reality Winner was sentenced to five years and three months for leaking a classified report to The Intercept regarding Russian hacking of election systems.  Reporters for The Intercept sought confirmation the report was authentic from a defense contractor who informed authorities about it and turned over identifying numbers from the report that revealed Winner as the source of the leak.

Terry Albury, a former FBI agent, was sentenced to four years in prison in 2018 for sharing classified information, likely with The Intercept, according to the Washington Post.  He may have been the source of The Intercept’s series of reports entitled The FBI’s Secret Rules.


Image courtesy of Pixabay

The Obama Administration’s Deadly Playbook Released

Author’s Note:  this article was originally published on over a year ago and may contain outdated information.  I am posting it here now because it is no longer available on that website (more about that here).  I will be posting a couple additional articles that I wrote for Newsbud that are also no longer available there.

Katie Aguilera

America’s Lethal Drone Strike Policies and the Normalization of Killing with Robots

On August 6, 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, announced the long sought release of a redacted version of the Presidential Policy Guide, or PPG, for drone strikes outside of areas of “actual hostilities” as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the ACLU.  The ACLU published the document, which has been referred to as “the Playbook,” on their website along with three other related documents that were released.

ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer was quoted in the announcement as saying, “the PPG provides crucial information about policies that have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, including hundreds of non-combatants, and about the bureaucracy that the Obama administration has constructed to oversee and implement those policies.  The PPG should have been released three years ago, but its release now will inform an ongoing debate about the lawfulness and wisdom of the government’s counterterrorism policies.  The release of the PPG and related documents is also a timely reminder of the breadth of powers that will soon be in the hands of another president.”

The PPG itself states that it “establishes the standard operating procedures for when the United States takes direct action, which refers to lethal and non-lethal uses of force, including capture operations, against terrorist targets outside the United States and areas of active hostilities.”  It goes on to say that the primary goal is to capture, not kill, any targeted individuals, that “lethal action should be taken in an effort to prevent terrorist attacks against U.S. persons only when capture of an individual is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to effectively address the threat.”  The PPG adds that lethal action should not be punitive or a “substitute for prosecuting a terrorist suspect.”

The truth is, the PPG has a lot of vague language that allows for an awful lot of leeway that the administration has already demonstrated a willingness to take in the use of drones to target individuals.  It talks of “near certainty that the individual being targeted is in fact the lawful target and located at the place where the action will occur,” and that there is “near certainty” that no non-combatants will be harmed in the attacks.

Considering what we already know from The Drone Papers and numerous whistleblowers about how targets are identified, located, and attacked, the pronouncement of any near certainty involved in drone strikes would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so deadly and horrible.  Just as the administration’s definition of an “imminent threat” is rather loose, with the Pentagon and CIA having 60 days to strike a target after approval, the definition of near certainty appears to be wide open.

Andrew Walker points out another disturbing truth in his August 10, 2016 article about the PPG when he writes, “if anyone other than the targeted individual is ultimately engaged with kinetic action (which happens all the time) than the procedures are meaningless.  Where is the interagency and legal review for those individuals, even if they are classified as combatants?  It doesn’t exist.  Consequently, by authorizing kinetic action against certain individuals, the Obama Administration almost guarantees that people that have not been reviewed will end up dead—and many of them turn out to be innocent civilians.”

I wrote several months ago that “it is not a question of whether the entire program of targeted killing through drone strikes is moral, humane, effective, or even truly supported by national and international law.  It is a question of whether the laws can be explained in such a way as to make drone strikes legal.  To make state-sponsored assassination legal, at least as long as it is called ‘targeted killing’ and is not utilized by enemies of the west.

After all, it is clear that the US and UK have no qualms about violating international law by inventing justifications to invade a sovereign nation. Neither did the US hesitate to create documentation that justified its use of torture.”

The policies are crafted simply to justify and normalize counterterrorism strategies that have already been utilized and embraced by the administration and the military for years.  The media announces the release of the policies, giving the administration a pat on the back for transparency.  But little time is spent discussing the reality behind these policies, the devastating effects these strategies have on the lives of countless people around the world.  Additionally, it moves us further down the road of desensitization to the idea of drone strikes on US soil.

In spite of the PPG’s statement that it sets procedures for strikes outside of the US, CNN casually slid this comment into their August 6, 2016 article about the PPG release:  “if the target is a US citizen or someone living in the US…it will be submitted to the President for a decision.” [Emphasis added].  As if to inject the idea of drone strikes on US soil into the national conscience, to make the idea as easily accepted as the idea of US police killing a man with a robot-mounted bomb.

In a July 23, 2016 blog post, Laurie Calhoun, author of the book We Kill Because We Can, writes the following about the Dallas Police Department’s use of a robot with a bomb mounted on it to kill Micah Johnson.  “US citizens have grown accustomed to their government killing people abroad, but the decision to kill by remote control in the homeland was extraordinary in that no attempt was made to incapacitate the suspect instead.”  She goes on to state, “the precedent set by this action would seem to be yet another step down an ever-more lethal continuum rendered considerably more so by the current US president, Barack Obama, whose policy it is to kill rather than capture suspected terrorists located abroad.”

It seems only a matter of time, with the increasingly alarmist rhetoric about domestic terrorists and self-radicalized lone-wolves, that drone strikes will come home to US soil.  Americans have largely ignored the growing reliance on targeted killing with drones in countries far away (along with all the death and destruction caused by them), and we barely blinked when an American was blown up by a robot-delivered bomb in Dallas.  Will we remain so apathetic and silent when drone strikes happen here?  Will we just accept that it is all part of “the most important policy objective” of protecting American lives, as stated in the PPG?  When we see the death firsthand, will we allow these policies, crafted solely by those who seek to justify their illegal strategies, to stand as humane and ethical operating procedure?


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US Airstrikes In Yemen Increasing


Katie Aguilera

According to Navy Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, the US has conducted some 50 airstrikes in Yemen from February 28 through last week.  And last weekend, after numerous strikes in eastern Yemen targeting Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, the total now stands at 70, according to Captain Davis.

Bill Roggio wrote in his April 4, 2017 Long War Journal post that the total number of US airstrikes in Yemen since the beginning of the year is more than 75, which he notes is “already nearly double the yearly total since the drone program against al Qaeda in Yemen began in 2009.”  He adds that “the previous record number of airstrikes conducted by the US in Yemen in any one year was 41 in 2009.”

(Just a reminder, the United States is not at war with Yemen.  For more on how the US justifies such strikes outside of areas it is actively at war, read what I wrote here.)

Yemen has been in the midst of a brutal war with Saudi Arabia for nearly two years.  Adam Johnson writes in a February 27, 2017 FAIR article that the war has “left over 10,000 dead, 40,000 wounded, 2.5 million internally displaced, 2.2 million children suffering from malnutrition and over 90 percent of civilians in need of humanitarian aid.”

His article goes on to discuss the threat of famine Yemen faces as a result of the war that has received media attention lately.  Johnson rightfully points out that the major media outlets ignore the role of the US in the crisis.  He concludes his article with this:

A first step to putting political pressure on Trump to mitigate the suffering in Yemen is for the US public to speak out about their government’s role—a condition unlikely to be met if corporate media never bother to mention it.

Another question the media rarely raises is what these airstrikes ultimately accomplish.  Captain Davis stated that “we continue to target AQAP in Yemen, and this is done in the interest of disrupting a terror organization that presents a very significant threat to the United States.”

That vague explanation does not address the threat of increasing the ranks of the very terrorist organization we are attacking.  In a September 2, 2014 report for Yemen Times, Ali Abulohoom discusses the PTSD experienced by Yemeni citizens as a result of drone strikes, as well as the continuous fear of future strikes that they live with.  He also writes of another effect of airstrikes.

The article states, “it is well-known that animosity against the United States is mounting as the attacks have intensified in recent years,” and concludes with the following quote:

“As long as the United States continues to strike areas in Yemen with drones which are claiming the lives of innocents in addition to their targets, support for Al-Qaeda is going to increase.”

Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmadi

This statement has been echoed by four former drone operators who wrote an open letter to the Obama administration arguing against drone strikes.  In the letter, they state that the killing of innocent civilians by drone strikes served to fuel “the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay.  This administration and its predecessors have built a drone program that is one of the most devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world.”

As many feared, the new administration shows no indication of slowing the use of targeted killing through drone strikes.  Instead, it appears the strikes will increase, leading to more innocent lives lost, and more anger and hatred towards the United States.  And the drive for revenge.

Image courtesy of pixabay


Legalizing Assassination With Drone Strikes

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Katie Aguilera

According to numbers compiled by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the low estimate of civilians killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan is in the hundreds, high estimate is over one thousand.  US officials would have us believe the number of civilians killed is much lower, that strikes by UAVs are accurate, precise, and incur less collateral damage than strikes by manned aircraft.  However, there is no shortage of information showing otherwise.

In light of this growing body of information refuting the official claims of the US administration, more and more critics are calling into question the use of UAV’s for targeted killings, but we have heard little discussion of that in the mainstream media here in the US.

There has been some recent discussion in the UK press after the British Parliament Joint Committee on human rights released a report that calls on the Government to “clarify legal case for lethal drone strikes outside armed conflict.”  The report covers the findings of an investigation launched as a result of the killing of Reyaad Khan, a British citizen fighting for ISIS in Syria, by a targeted drone strike in August, 2014. Because this strike took place before Parliament voted on military action in Syria it raised questions on the legality of targeted killings outside of areas where the UK is involved in armed conflict with terrorist organizations, as well as questions on targeting a British citizen for execution without a trial.

Similar questions arose in the US after the September 30, 2011 targeted drone strike in Yemen that killed US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, the first US citizen to be placed on the list for such a strike.  Also in the killing of his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki two weeks later, reportedly by mistake.  But, just as the UK’s strike on Khan in Syria, al-Awlaki’s targeting and eventual killing was quickly justified as both he and Khan were considered imminent threats and capture was infeasible.  Little more has been said about the al-Awlakis deaths since.  The US Justice Department did release a white paper explaining their legal justification for the killing, and that seemed to satisfy the media and the public.*

The New York Times stated that the white paper explains that “Obama administration lawyers have asserted that it would be lawful to kill a United States citizen if ‘an informed, high-level official’ of the government decided that the target was a ranking figure in Al Qaeda who posed ‘an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States’ and if his capture was not feasible.”  The article goes on to say that the paper “adopts an elastic definition of an ‘imminent’ threat,” that does not mean an actual attack needs to be in progress.  The target need only be “generally engaged in terrorist activities aimed at the United States.”  The Times article also says that the paper “asserts that courts should not play a role in reviewing or restraining such decisions.”

As for the strike on Reyaad Khan, David Cameron stated it was a “new departure” in UK drone strikes as it occurred in a country where the UK is not at war.  But he asserted that it was an act of self-defense, stating, “we took this action because there was no alternative.”

But for the Joint Committee on human rights, that wasn’t sufficient explanation in the case of Khan, and others.  They state in their report:

“Clarification of the legal basis is essential in order for Parliament and the public to be satisfied that the Government is complying with the rule of law and to provide absolute clarity for all those involved in the chain of command for such actions (intelligence personnel, armed forces, officials, Ministers et al) so they have a legal defence against any possible future criminal prosecution for murder from within or outside of the UK. The need for clarification is urgent in view of the increasing use of lethal force in Libya.”

This Guardian article states, “British drone pilots, intelligence officers and ministers could face murder charges if the government does not clarify its policies on targeted killing, a parliamentary committee has warned.”  The article points out that while it would be unlikely for such charges to be brought forth from within the UK, other nations might bring charges if their own citizens are targeted and killed outside of areas of armed conflict.  In other words, the real concern of the Parliament is that the laws are clarified to protect and justify the use of targeted drone strikes, anywhere in the world.

Consider what Chris Cole writes in a Guardian article published yesterday:

“While these are at some level sensible recommendations, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of putting in place policies and procedures that normalise and legitimise extrajudicial killing. The UK must not follow the US down the path of adding suspects to a “kill list” in order that they will be assassinated at the first opportunity in an ever-expanding, global battlefield.”

It is not a question of whether the entire program of targeted killing through drone strikes is moral, humane, effective, or even truly supported by national and international law.  It is a question of whether the laws can be explained in such a way as to make drone strikes legal.  To make state-sponsored assassination legal, at least as long as it is called ‘targeted killing’ and is not utilized by enemies of the west.

After all, it is clear that the US and UK have no qualms about violating international law by inventing justifications to invade a sovereign nation. Neither did the US hesitate to create documentation that justified its use of torture.

According to Kate Martin in this April 1, 2016 Center for American Progress article, the largest controversy over the use of drones for targeted killing “stems from confusion about whether the strikes outside of Afghanistan are part of the armed conflict-the war-with Al Qaeda and its associated forces.”  She asserts that clarifying that is critical in determining whether targeted killing is legal.  She writes:

“The applicability of the law of armed conflict is key to determining the legality of the strikes because, in a war, a party is entitled to deliberately target and kill the enemy so long as other requirements of the LOAC [laws of armed conflict] are met.  Outside war, such killings are likely to be murder.”

US officials claim that the United States is in fact in armed conflict with al Qaeda, and the Authorization For Use of Military Force passed in September 2001 after the 9/11 attacks authorizes the deliberate targeting of al Qaeda affiliated people involved with the orchestration of the 9/11 attacks.

Steven Groves writes in this April 10, 2013 article, “targeted drone strikes by the United States against terrorists comply with international law, particularly with the law of war, both because the U.S. is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda and associated forces and because the U.S. has an inherent right of self-defense.” This engagement in armed conflict allows the US to “lawfully target them [al Qaeda and associated forces] with lethal force.”  Groves adds:

“Critics contend, however, that the United States is not now—and perhaps never has been—in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda that would be recognized under international law and that, accordingly, drone strikes in places such as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia are not justified and are in fact “extrajudicial executions” prohibited by international human rights law.[8]

However, as a sovereign and independent nation, the United States may determine for itself whether it is at war with another nation or, in this case, with a transnational terrorist organization. U.S. officials have considered the United States to be in a state of armed conflict with al-Qaeda since at least the attacks on September 11, 2001.”

Groves goes on to write, “whether the sum total of these attempted terrorist attacks are of an intensity sufficient to sustain an armed conflict is a debatable point, but in the end analysis the United States will make that final determination.”  He points out that the Geneva Conventions do not give a definition of armed conflict or set a level of intensity that must exist in order for conflict to be defined as armed.  So, if the US wants it to be war, then war it shall be, because the US says so.

Another key aspect of the debate is the claim that targeted killing is justifiable as a means of self-defense, that the US and the UK have the right to target individuals who pose an imminent threat.  But documents leaked to the Intercept, described in The Drone Papers give much more detail to the process of targeting an individual, including the fact that once an individual is approved for targeting, the Pentagon and CIA have a full 60 days to act.  As James Downie writes in this May 5, 2016 Washington Post opinion piece, “you don’t need a dictionary to know that 60 days is not ‘imminent.'”

Kate Martin points out in her Center for American Progress article linked above that the laws of armed conflict require distinction when targeting individuals.  That means only “lawful targets-such as combatants and other military objectives-be intentionally targeted.  Also necessary is proportionality, “which requires that the anticipated collateral damage of an attack not be excessive in relation to the anticipated concrete and direct military advantage from the attack.”

This is the most egregious aspect of the debate.  US officials repeatedly claim that great care, and much intelligence, goes into the decision to target someone, as well as a ‘near certainty’ that civilians won’t be at risk.  But again that is refuted in details published in The Drone Papers, as well as reports from other drone whistleblowers.  Individuals are targeted because they are identified as ‘terrorists’ by paid informants or they possess a certain SIM card in their cell phone that has been identified as belonging to a person believed to be a terror suspect.

In James Downie’s opinion piece linked above, he writes, “the leaked documents show the disturbing ease with which an innocent civilian — American or not — can be added to the U.S. government’s main terrorist database, such as on the basis of a single ‘uncorroborated’ Facebook or Twitter post.”  He goes on to add that of the 469,000 names nominated for the “known or suspected terrorists” database, only 4,900 were rejected.

So, if any of those 464,100 who made the list happen to borrow the wrong cell phone, or write the wrong rant on their Facebook page, or infuriate their neighbor enough that the neighbor decides to turn them in as a terrorist in exchange for payment, or interact in any way with other known terror suspects, they will likely end up on the target list. And when the ‘intelligence’ is wrong?  Just label anyone killed an enemy combatant, a ‘military-aged male,’ and therefore a legitimate target in this ‘armed conflict’ on terror.

It isn’t as if, for the most part, anyone is verifying who is being killed.  Consider that Reprieve, a human rights charity, reported that “US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan have killed as many as 1,147 unknown people in failed attempts to kill 41 named individuals.”  It goes on to identify 41 men who are reported to have been killed more than once!

So much for ‘distinction’ and ‘proportionality.’ But then, when did empires ever abide by laws of armed conflict set forth by the international community?  Empires make their own rules.  At least as long as those ruled by them allow them to.  It is obvious that the Obama administration will not stop using targeted killing (assassination), and it seems highly unlikely that Obama’s successor will end the practice either. As long as we continue to give consent with our silence, as long as we allow the media to ignore the facts, as long as we continue to allow officials to justify it with laws they create or manipulate to legalize it, targeted killing with drones will continue, and will undoubtedly increase.


*Adam Klasfield reported today that “Dueling battles to uncover the CIA’s legal rationale for drone strikes on U.S. citizens crashed this week, as the American Civil Liberties Union’s unsuccessful lawsuit sank another one filed by an investigative reporter for Vice News.
The ACLU and Vice News reporter Jason Leopold have spent years trying to obtain a ‘white paper’ justifying the bombings that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, two al-Qaida propagandists.”

***As if the ease in which an individual can be targeted, and the ease in which a drone can strike a target, aren’t terrifying enough, consider this article out today by Nafeez Ahmed:  “Official US defence and NATO documents confirm that autonomous weapon systems will kill targets, including civilians, based on tweets, blogs and Instagram.”


Read an article I wrote for Newsbud with more information about the Obama administration’s policies on targeted killing here.

Update: That link above to the Newsbud article I wrote doesn’t work as Newsbud has removed all my work.  You can read that article here instead.  11/2/2017.


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