Reality Winner Takes Plea Deal, Will Serve Five Years For Letting The Public Know About Russian Election Interference

from the cage-the-messenger dept

After being held in jail for over a year because the DOJ managed to talk a judge into viewing Reality Winner — leaker of single document pertaining to Russian interference in the US elections — as a national security threat in need of constant containment, Winner has agreed to plea deal. Trevor Timm reports for The Intercept:

Winner stated in federal court today that she pleads guilty to one count of violating Section 793 of the Espionage Act and will agree to a sentence of 63 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release.

As Timm points out, Winner’s leak of a single document confirming not only everyone’s suspicions, but things already stated by US government officials, will net her the longest sentence ever imposed on someone charged under the Espionage Act. These charges are particularly difficult to fight. Being charged with espionage prevents defendants from introducing anything that indicates a lack of malicious intent or speaks to any benefits the public may have received from reviewing a leaked secret document.

All a defendant can do is hope for a merciful court. Winner didn’t find one. Both the judge and prosecutors seemed intent on making this as miserable of an experience as possible. Almost every motion her lawyers filed was denied, along with bail, as the government painted Winner as a threat to national security. That the case was intrinsically tied to national security interests allowed the government to sidestep her requests and demands with ease.

In Winner’s case, the prosecution demanded debilitating secrecy restrictions that hampered the defense team for over a year. Prosecutors attempted to convince the judge that they didn’t even need to prove that the document Winner was alleged to have leaked even potentially could have harmed national security.

What Winner leaked came as a surprise to many state election officials. If the federal government had any evidence of Russian hacking attempts, it kept that to itself. Winner’s leak gave them the info the feds weren’t willing to share. The report was deemed important enough by one federal agency — the one charged with assisting state elections — that it actually directed state officials to read the leaked document and take steps to protect their election systems. And for that, Winner will spend the next eight years under direct control of the government that couldn’t be bothered to disseminate this info itself.

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Comments on “Reality Winner Takes Plea Deal, Will Serve Five Years For Letting The Public Know About Russian Election Interference”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:


Which is not to say that they don’t hate him with a burning passion, but I strongly suspect that he would quickly have an ‘accident’ soon after being taken into custody.

(Soon after the Snowden leaks there was an article about a government official, anonymous though on the record all but daydreaming about killing the man. I highly doubt he was the only one.)

Bamboo Harvester (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s not. She pleaded out to a single charge of violating 18 U.S.C. 793 – Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information.

Of which she is clearly guilty.

That she plead out to a 5 year sentence simply means that the Prosecutor agreed to drop OTHER charges that would have resulted in a much longer sentence.

If you rob a bank and the money you stole from it turns out to be counterfeit, should you not be prosecuted for bank robbery?

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

While not this case, your are very close to describing the entrapment cases the FBI is doing.

If the FBI created a fake bank, filled with fake money, and provided you with all the tools needed to rob said bank, and pushed you at gun point to be a member of the crew (with out saying the are FBI).

Did you really rob the bank?

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s even sillier than that. The fake bank never actually existed except on paper, the counterfeit money was imaginary all along, as were all of the burglary tools for the heist. And the heist could never actually happen due to everything being imaginary.

The only difference between one of these FBI plots and a Role-Playing Game session or a Hollywood movie script is someone — usually someone mentally incompetent to even stand trial — was talked into believing it was real.

Hugo Connery (profile) says:

Printer tracking strikes again

It seems that those little yellow dots that most commercial printers put on documents they print which ties the printed page to the printer was a major part of the case against Winner.

Interesting article at El Reg in which they also present some recent research by a german group which can obfuscate the secret dot labeling to break the link back to the originating printer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Printer tracking

… in a Police State all citizens are suspects all the time.

Thus, all citizens must be observed & tracked to the maximum extent possible. This is quite logical from the perspective of those ruling a nation-state. Control of the populace must be strictly enforced or ruling power and perks will be lost.

Laws & Courts are easily weaponized against the populace because the rulers control Laws & Courts.

The Espionage Act is thoroughly non-constitutional, but that is irrelevant to those controlling Laws & Courts.

“Plea Deals” are thoroughly unjust, but they are a routine method for rulers to force innocent people into pleading guilty and thus avoiding serious trials of the phony charges and evidence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Printer tracking strikes again

Their solution is evidently to print more dots, but

So, looping back to what started RMS’s Free Software movement, is there any printer whose firmware can be replaced? This is some blatent STASI shit here, like governments read about their typewriting-tracking project and said "we should do that too". Unless every manufacturer independently decided to screw over their users.

Paul Brinker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Printer tracking strikes again

As proven by quite a few people, you cant prove the firmware is fine unless you built it yourself.

You would more or less have to purchase an arduino and reimplement some sorta printer driver. Even then you would never be 100% sure, but since no one at all does this kind of thing you might be ok.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Printer tracking strikes again

You would more or less have to purchase an arduino and reimplement some sorta printer driver.

You wouldn’t need an Arduino for control. Are you thinking to use it for reflashing, like to control JTAG pins?

I was thinking it would be more like OpenWRT or CHDK, just an alternate firmware you upload over USB or the network interface. It’s gotta be a good idea anyway—do you really want the original 10-year-old software stack running on your network, handling all your private documents? I’d like to stop sending unencrypted data to my printer.

since no one at all does this kind of thing you might be ok.

Ideally you’d want a larger anonymity set, so someone looking at the document can’t conclude "there are no dots, so it must have come from that guy in the IT department who knows an inordinate amount about printers". (OpenWRT is not widely used, but most of the people using it are not low-level hardware/firmware hackers.)

Anonymous Coward says:

typical of what the USA has become! learn something but say nothing and get screwed by the security services, the ‘justice’ system (and i use that term VERY lightly!), the government and the President when the info comes out! say something and get screwed by the security services, the ‘justice’ system (and i use that term VERY lightly!), the government and the President when the info comes out!

anyone like to shed some light on what course of action a person is supposed to take? as for the ‘Dept of Justice’, they seem to be willing to go to any lengths, regardless of whether truthful or not, just to get a conviction of the person in their sights, plying for as long a sentence as possible when the person has done nothing except tell the truth!! how can that be right, under any sense of reality??

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Innocent until proven guilty' nowhere to be seen

Prosecutors attempted to convince the judge that they didn’t even need to prove that the document Winner was alleged to have leaked even potentially could have harmed national security.

So charge her under a law related to national security, then try to convince the judge that there’s no need to even prove that the leak might have harmed national security.

As if the law wasn’t bad enough on it’s own…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 'Innocent until proven guilty' nowhere to be seen

Considering that she was a far left political activist with strong opinions, that probably did not win her any sympathy from a judge who is a conservative Republican from the Deep South.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Innocent until proven guilty' nowhere to be seen

lol at that source..

And even if she was a left-winger, so? As far as I know the US Constitution clearly protects free speech which includes sympathizing and preaching about the left even if there’s no left party in the government. If the judge is biased enough to let her activism influence in his evaluation of facts then he shouldn’t be a judge.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 'Innocent until proven guilty' nowhere to be seen

Yes it did, but that doesn’t make the persecution, er prosecution of Reality Winner okay. She’s a veteran who went to jail for serving her country by letting people know about the Russian interference which the government wasn’t interested in dealing with because it got their man into office. Let her out!

Anonymous Coward says:

Classified clearance

The government wouldn’t have to prove anything more than the document was classified and that she knew or should have known that it was when it was removed or shown to someone who wasn’t cleared to see it. That’s it, case closed. Short of the POTUS, no single person is the decider of what classified material can be released. No matter how good the information may be for the public, that isn’t what the case is about. It is about one person assuming the role of the decider. Most rational people can agree that national security does require the government to keep secrets, that system would not work if individuals could decide on their own to make those secrets public.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Classified clearance

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but the number of jobs in the private sector and in non-mil government sectors that require clearance has grown drastically over the last 5 years. This is probably sold as a means to deter events like this in the future.

But what it really does is put the intel community in a position where it can prefilter candidates for all levels of government. If you don’t see why that is a problem, you might want to reflect that most coupe de tete’s have historically come from the intel branches of their respective governments.

What she did, or why she did it isn’t that important. What is important is that the response to these kind of events is creating a greater threat to national security, than the leakers themselves.

Bamboo Harvester says:

Re: Classified clearance

Thank you for injecting some sanity into this.

It was the ACT that was illegal – it does NOT matter if the document was for a bioweapon or 1977 baseball scores.

Has anyone defending her actions actually looked into her background?

Airforce E-4, TS clearances, six years, member of the Drone program, awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for “aiding in 650 enemy captures, 600 enemies killed in action and identifying 900 high value targets.

There is simply no way anyone can claim she was not aware of the consequences of her crimes.

Frankly, I’m half-surprised she isn’t being condemned for those 600 dead.

Robert says:

Re: Re: Classified clearance

Sure genius, go get a National Security clearance and leak classified information because you felt a need for full disclosure and see how that works for you.

Thought not… That make your comment less relevant or does that make you a coward for expecting someone else to do the dirty work for you on something you are not willing to do yourself.

By all means, if the subject is that important to you then do what you need to do–just be ready and willing to accept the consequences which are clearly spelled out and drilled into your head.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Classified clearance

So if the government is secretly and illegally jailing innocent citizens and torturing them or killing them in gas chambers or the like, people who leak that information should be charged with treason? (Extreme example but you get my point)

Yeah that sounds like a great idea.

No, you shouldn’t just go around leaking any data you want, but whistleblower protections exist for a reason, it’s a check on government power and corruption. This has been affirmed by our government in the past.

Hate him or love him, Snowden exposed MASSIVE government abuse of the rights of American citizens. That is exactly the kind of thing that needs to be leaked. Because of that, we’re slowly starting to see that abuse reigned in. If he hadn’t leaked that, who knows what kind of stuff they’d be doing today, and now the public knows to keep an eye out for anything they may try in the future.

Whistleblowing helps keep our freedoms intact. That doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been abused, but to say that it’s straight up illegal and legitimate whistleblowers should be jailed and charged with treason (which can come with a death penalty by the way) is just beyond naive.

JMT (profile) says:

Re: Classified clearance

"Most rational people can agree that national security does require the government to keep secrets, that system would not work if individuals could decide on their own to make those secrets public."

And that would work if we could trust the government to not keep secrets that go completely against the public interest. Most rational people would understand those secrets should not be kept. Most rational people would understand that complete obsequience to the government is a terrible idea.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: "national security does require the government to keep secrets"

In wartime, operational secrets are necessary, and their secrecy is necessary for only a short period of time.

As for national security, it has no meaning anymore, except as a catch-all like the police good faith exception.

Rather over-classification and the color of national security has been abused by state officials countless times to uncover corruption, abuse and violations of the constitutional rights of the public.

So we have good cause to distrust classification of material as anything other than a coverup for wrongdoing. And given that it’s common policies of our departments to drag their feet and over censor on FOIA requests, we have more than enough evidence that a government by the people should not be trusted with the ability to keep secrets for more than (say) a month.

mcinsand (profile) says:

large national security leak versus small

The way I see it, Winner is paying for having been a small questionably-labeled security risk, when what she did was to point out a huge national security risk; the federal government not sharing the dangers that state boards were facing. If anything, this is actually worse than the NSA’s security risk of keeping software weaknesses secret, thereby putting the software users at risk.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: large national security leak versus small

what she did was to point out a huge national security risk

Exactly. Disclose classified information that exposes a government weakness or otherwise makes them look bad? Felony. Jail time. End of your career.

Disclose classified information to get in a girl’s pants? Misdemeanor. Probation. Lucrative consulting deals.

Robert says:

Re: large national security leak versus small

“the federal government not sharing the dangers that state boards were facing”

And how do you know this? Because you personally weren’t aware? You have no idea what the NSA was or was not doing–you still don’t. Thats the whole point. She was in no position to disclose information due to her personal feelings.

Robert says:

Re: Re:

While this may be your perception of how the system works, you are 100 percent incorrect. A low level person will be prosecuted 100 percent of the time, whether the leak makes the government look good or whether it makes them look bad.

You may be correct in that it appears that “some” people get away with leaking–especially if it doesn’t make them look bad but it has nothing to do with what was leaked.

Anonymous Coward says:

Trying to claim the "leak" confirmed Russians successful, eh?

leaker of single document pertaining to Russian interference in the US elections

It wasn’t. She’s an idiot, and the doc proved NOTHING.

My bet is still that she’s either self-motivating idiot or, less likely, was set up as a patsy.

But in no case were the docs a revelation, or worth her going to jail for — which she deserves, still LEAKED what knew was "classified".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OPpen and Fair government??

Part of the problem is there is a definite age barrier in politics. Most of the imbeciles running the show are well past their 50s and into their 60s and 70s, and we do not have appropriate checks and balances to ensure that they are actually capable of good governance and decision making, and that they have not gone senile. It’s also difficult to encourage younger generations to be politically active, because many are acutely aware of the personal sacrifices you make having your life scrutinized by all.

There are some suggestions that electoral reforms such as implementing range voting or choosing politicians via sortition would be beneficial to getting an overall improved quality of life and better politicians. I’m not sure how I feel about sortition, but I definitely think at least that range voting should be the way to go in choosing political candidates (along with getting rid of the electoral college, which failed miserably in 2016 and did not do what it was designed to do).

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: It's not about why or even what you did.

It’s about who you are.

The legal system has a long run of treating the US aristocracy with kid gloves, even for severe crimes, while treating the proles brutally even for modest crimes, especially if they show disloyalty to the US or to specific officials in the US.

We’d have a long running history of evidence, enough to make an indictment, if there was a tribunal that would hear it. But the US legal system does not concern itself with justice.

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