Reality Winner of Augusta, Whistleblower, Sentenced under Espionage Act
Photograph from Reality Winner’s personal Facebook page; used pursuant to fair use doctrine for educational purposes.
(APN) ATLANTA — On Thursday, August 23, 2018, Reality Leigh Winner, 26, a brave whistleblower who warned the U.S. citizenry of Russian espionage related to state election systems, was sentenced to five years in prison under the Espionage Act.
On June 26, 2018, at the U.S. District Court in Augusta, Georgia, Winner pled guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act.
“Reality wished to thank the numerous individuals and organizations who have supported her through this process,” her attorney, Joe Whitley, said in a press statement at the time.
Winner was honorably discharged from the Air Force in 2016 where she had a top secret security clearance and worked as a cryptologic linguist.
She was later hired by Pluribus International Corporation, a company that provides services to the National Security Agency (NSA), where she worked as a contractor in cybersecurity, based in Augusta, Georgia.
Her crime was leaking a classified NSA document to the media, which proved that Russian military intelligence used sophisticated phishing attempts to try to gain access to state-level election systems.
The U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump prosecuted her under the Espionage Act, an outdated 1917 World War I law used mostly for spies to prevent the support of U.S. enemies during wartime.
However, Winner was not a spy trying to sell information to a foreign government. Instead, she is a whistleblower who alerted the public and election officials to vulnerabilities in our voting system.
It would take a huge stretch of the imagination to consider the information she leaked to be in any way damaging to national security.
If anything, her act was a public service, seeing as how the entire nation was already talking about cybersecurity and how Russian hacking may have helped Donald Trump win the 2016 Presidential Election.
The Espionage Act was rarely used until the Barack Obama Administration used it to prosecute suspected national security leakers. Now the Trump Administration is taking it to a whole new hardline level.
Winner has been in jail without bond for over a year and was under pressure from a conservative judge who imposed extreme secrecy rules to prevent her defense team from citing publicly available news articles. The court also prevented her from seeing evidence relevant to her defense.
The judge denied motion after motion brought by the defense and rejected the vast majority of Winner’s discovery requests including her subpoenas to federal agencies and state election officials who could corroborate the importance of the document she released, according to the Intercept online news service.
“It is unclear to me how she hurt national security when much of the same information was being reported by our own government officials,” Garland Favorito, co-founder of voterga.org, told Atlanta Progressive News.
For example, on October 07, 2016, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) jointly stated that the U.S. Intelligence Community was confident that the Russian Government directed recent hacking of emails with the intention of interfering with the U.S. election.
This information was known almost nine months before Winner’s document went public on June 05, 2017.
Why the court did not allow Winner to use information already in the public domain to defend herself is not understood at this time.
Trump called the Russian hacking “fake news” and fired FBI Director James Comey on May 09, 2017 because Comey would not drop charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn or end the investigation into “this Russia thing.”
The next day Trump bragged to Russian officials in the White House that he had fired that “nut job” Comey in order to end the Russian investigation, and shared classified information with them.
Trump wanted to keep this secret, so he banned the U.S. media from the meeting, but allowed a Russian photographer in.
On May 11, when Winner sent the NSA report to the media.
Winner criticized Trump and called him an “orange fascist” on social media. Her ex-cellmate says that Winner believes Trump has targeted her.
An interview on Democracy Now radio with her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, gives some insight into Winner’s state of mind and why she released the document.
“Why do I have this job if I’m just going to sit back and be helpless? I just thought that was the final straw. I felt really hopeless seeing that information contested. Why isn’t this out there? Why can’t this be public?” Winner allegedly said under interrogation, according to Winner-Davis.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2018)