Ahead of Trial, Government Vilifies NSA Whistleblower Reality Winner

By Michael Sainato, Truthout | Report

As whistleblower Reality Winner nears trial, prosecutors for the United States government have focused on framing Winner as “anti-American,” denying her bail and due process, and depriving her defense attorneys of adequate access to resources.

Winner, an Air Force veteran working for an intelligence contractor in Augusta, Georgia, printed out and mailed a classified NSA document to The Intercept in May 2017. The document reported that Russian hackers conducted cyberattacks against a United States voting software supplier and sent phishing emails to more than 100 election officials leading up to the November 2016 election, though the data used to develop this analysis was not included in the report.

Through metadata from the document obtained after a reporter from The Intercept forwarded the full document to verify its authenticity, government officials deduced that it was printed, rather than sent electronically. They then concluded that Winner was the one who sent it, as she was one of only six people who had printed the document and she had also previously contacted the media outlet.

Shortly after The Intercept contacted intelligence agencies about the document, FBI agents arrested Winner on her way home from the grocery store. She confessed to leaking the classified document, but her attorneys are working to have that confession thrown away, as she was not read her Miranda rights before the FBI interrogated her. Winner was charged under the Espionage Act with leaking classified information to a media outlet, and now faces up to 10 years in prison.

“What’s been going on is unfortunately typical of what happens when you overcharge someone who, by all appearances, is a whistleblower, with charges like the Espionage Act,” said Jesselyn Radack, head of the Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts, in an interview with Truthout. She pointed to the situation as an example of the “criminalization of whistleblowing.” Winner has no public interest defense available, and the use of the Espionage Act ensures many of the legal proceedings will take place in secret.

“Unfortunately, the government has used the Espionage Act more on whistleblowers than it has on traditional spies,” Radack said. She added that the government has a variety of other laws it could use to prosecute the leaking of classified information, but the use of the Espionage Act reveals political motives to make an example of whistleblowers.

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