In 2017, Reality Winner, a contractor with the NSA, leaked information about Russian interference in the U.S. elections to the media. She was arrested by the FBI, denied bail, and sentenced to five years in maximum security at the federal prison at Fort Worth, Texas.
In 2017 Winner listened to a podcast, ‘Intercepted’, hosted by the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald. On the podcast, Scahill said “There is a tremendous amount of hysterics, a lot of theories, a lot of premature conclusions being drawn around all of this Russia stuff,” … “And there’s not a lot of hard evidence to back it up. There may be evidence, but it’s not here yet.” After the broadcast, Winner requested a transcript of the podcast. In the course of her work as an NSA contractor, Winner had access to an NSA document detailing Russian cyberattacks against U.S. election systems. She could not believe that the document had not been made public. Winner sent a copy of the document to “The Intercept_”. After “The Intercept_” made the information public, the leaked document was quickly traced back to Winner.
Reality Winner was charged with transmission of national defense information under the Espionage Act, a World War I era law intended for the prosecution of spies. The Obama administration used the Espionage Act against whistleblowers and leakers who shared classified information with the media. Winner was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison. J. William Leonard, a deputy assistant secretary of defense and director of the Information Security Oversight Office in the Bush administration was a pro bono expert witness for Winner’s defense. Leonard believes that Winner’s prosecution was an overreach by the government. Leonard has stated that Winner’s actions were in the public interest and that the government has not proven that the leak caused damage to national security. Even President Trump has said that Winner’s sentence is “unfair” for an infraction that is “small potatoes”. Other figures who are connected to the Russian interference or other information leaks, like General Petraeus, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, Maria Butina, Lev Parnas, and Igor Fruman have been sentenced to less or no jail time.
While classified information should not be whimsically made public by government insiders, a democratic society must guard against an unaccountable security bureaucracy that is not responsive to the democratic process. A ‘pardon’ may be granted to a person who has been charged with or convicted of a crime, either preventing prosecution or removing any penalties. A ‘commutation’ of sentence cuts short the term of any penalty. Supporters of Reality Winner have created a petition asking that she be freed by pardon or commutation of sentence. The petition states that Winner did not conspire against the United States or with any foreign agent, nor did she ask for payment for the information she made public. President Trump has issued pardons and commutations in his final days in office. Either Trump or incoming President Biden should free Reality Winner.
Learn more about the effort to free Reality Winner at https://standwithreality.org/.
Thanks and a tip of the hat to https://standwithreality.org/ for the image.