A US court on Tuesday sentenced a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst to 45 months in prison after admitting he leaked information about a secret military program to carry out targeted assassinations using drones.

The former analyst, Daniel Everett Hill, 34, worked for two years for the US Central Intelligence Agency in selecting targets in Afghanistan to be targeted by air strikes by drones, in an experiment he told the court that it affected him psychologically.

After this experience, Hill left the military and in 2014 worked for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which is responsible for collecting geospatial intelligence from satellite images, and this job gave him access to top-secret documents about a targeted assassination program by planes. Drones in Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia.

Hill admitted that he stole documents related to this program and handed them over to a journalist working for the "The Intercept" news website, who published this information in 2015 as part of a major investigation called "The March Papers" that caused a scandal at that time.

Hill was facing a 50-year prison sentence, and during his trial, which was delayed due to defense confidentiality restrictions as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, he pleaded guilty to "possession and transmission of information relating to national defense".

The former analyst said his guilt over his participation in deadly drone strikes in Afghanistan led him to leak government secrets about the drone program.

Hill: I was ashamed to watch Afghan civilians killed because I helped track them down (Reuters - Archive)

feeling guilty

In a one-page written message - from his prison in the American city of Alexandria located in Campbell County, Kentucky, where he was detained - Hill outlined his motives for violating the law, expressing his regret and horror upon watching horrific videos of Afghans killed because his work helped track them.

When he was sent to Afghanistan in 2012, Hill said, his job was to track cellphone signals associated with people believed to be enemy combatants.

His guilt was exacerbated by the nature of the drone strike program, which kills innocent Afghan civilians in the course of their daily lives rather than targeting fighters on a conventional battlefield. on the battlefield, but what can I do to deal with the undeniable brutality I have committed?”

As a result, he said, his conscience forced him to reveal details about the program to an investigative reporter he had met before.

The documents showed, among other things, that the drone program was not as accurate as the government claims in terms of avoiding killing civilians.

Hill leaked the documents after leaving the Air Force and taking a civilian job with a contractor for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and for a brief period in 2014 worked as a toponymist, using his expertise in Chinese to help name maps.

In a document submitted to the court, Hill's defense attorneys asserted that their client did not want the disclosure of this classified information to do any harm to the United States.

The lawyers said their client "wanted to clear his conscience, educate his citizens in the hope that America would respect its ideals."

The Public Prosecution had asked the court to imprison the accused for a period ranging from 9 to 11 years, considering that he joined the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency for a single reason;

He is stealing and disclosing this confidential information, knowing that this matter would seriously harm American national security.

This is not the first conviction of a person who leaked classified military information to The Intercept.

In October 2018, an FBI agent was sentenced to 4 years in prison for disclosing classified information about FBI recruitment methods.

Prior to that, a man who had been a subcontractor at the National Security Agency was sentenced to more than five years in prison for disclosing a top-secret report on Russian hacking during the 2016 US presidential election.