Reality Winner Will Spend Five Years In Jail For Leaking Info Government Officials Released Publicly

from the putting-heads-on-pikes dept

The opening sentence of US Attorney Bobby L. Cristine’s statement on leaker Reality Winner says it all, even if it’s not exactly how Cristine wants it to be read.

The sentence rendered today is the longest received by a defendant for an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information to the media.

This is the longest sentence ever imposed under the Espionage Act. And it’s being imposed for a leaked document confirming much of what had been been discussed publicly by intelligence officials: that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. Winner will spend five years in jail for leaking information other government officials have published in full.

Espionage charges are easy to prosecute. The defendant’s options are limited. They’re unable to raise defenses about serving the public interest or acting as whistleblowers. This was document turned over to a media agency. This was not a document detailing crucial national security matters being handed to agents of an unfriendly government.

Winner isn’t a martyr, but neither is she the despicable villain portrayed in the DOJ’s official statement on its easy win. Twice the statement reminds us her act was not a “victimless crime.” In case we’re unable to get the point, it’s delivered in all caps once. Bold print highlights various incidentals the US Attorney thinks are particularly nefarious — like Winner KNOWINGLY disseminating a document with TOP SECRET printed across the top of it even though it EXPOSED SOURCES AND METHODS and it will apparently take the US intelligence community years to recover.

The DOJ’s happy it won this case. The press release is devoid of the usual dry language about US codes violated and other boilerplate. Instead, the bulk of it sounds defensive, as if the DOJ expects backlash and is hoping to get out in front of it. This is all extraneous, but it’s all in there for a reason: there’s a message being sent to leakers and whistleblowers and it isn’t subtle. [emphasis and ALL CAPS in the original]

Winner’s exceptionally damaging disclosure was not a spontaneous, unplanned event, but was the calculated culmination of a series of acts. She researched whether it was possible to insert a thumb drive into a Top Secret computer without being detected, and then inserted a thumb drive, WHICH THE GOVERNMENT NEVER RECOVERED, into a Top Secret computer. She researched job opportunities that would provide her access to classified information. At the same time, she searched for information about anti-secrecy organizations, and she celebrated claimed compromises in U.S. classified information.

Approximately eight days before she started work as a contractor with a security clearance, Winner installed sophisticated software tools on her computer designed to render her internet activity anonymous and untraceable. Two days before starting work, Winner captured an image of a webpage listing eight “securedrop” addresses for media outlets seeking leaked information. Then, her first day on the job, she sent messages mocking her security training. On that same day, Winner signed a non-disclosure agreement with the government in which she promised to keep secret classified information, and attested she was accepting this responsibility “…without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.” Yet, she wrote shortly thereafter that she was “#gonnafail” her polygraph examination when asked if she had “ever plotted against” the government. She claimed to hate America. When asked, “…you don’t actually hate America, right?” she responded, “I mean yeah I do its literally the worst thing to happen on the planet.”

On and on it goes in this fashion until it reaches a slightly more subtle point, but one that’s far more important.

Resolving this case with a plea agreement involving a lengthy prison sentence is the best resolution for the United States. The United States has to balance the need for prosecution with the damage that further disclosure of classified information at trial might cause. Proving the government’s case at trial would require the government to declassify or risk disclosure of TOP SECRET//SCI information. This plea affords the government a substantial benefit in protecting from disclosure information that is still classified. The FBI and members of the Intelligence Community affected by Winner’s treachery and betrayal have concurred in this judgement.

The DOJ needed this plea deal. It needed it far more than it needed anything else. During the prosecution, the government went out of its way to block any submission of classified/top secret documents as evidence, negatively affecting Winner’s ability to mount a successful defense. This explains the aggressiveness of the prosecution. Winner needed to believe she’d spend a couple of decades behind bars in order for her to accept the longest sentence ever handed to a document leaker under the Espionage Act.

If the government’s inner workings have a chance of being exposed in open court, the DOJ is either going to turn the screws or cut the defendant loose. With the administration engaged in a war on leakers, the DOJ wasn’t going to cut its losses by settling for a slap on the wrist. Winner gets the full force of the DOJ’s prosecution because anything less might have made the national security apparatus a tiny bit more transparent.

Filed Under: , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Reality Winner Will Spend Five Years In Jail For Leaking Info Government Officials Released Publicly”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
20 Comments
Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Winner isn’t a martyr, but neither is she the despicable villain portrayed in the DOJ’s official statement on its easy win.

I dunno. Sounds to me like she deliberately took a job with the government with the express intent of exfiltrating classified information because she hates her country. The fact that the thing she happened to have the opportunity to grab, when that opportunity came up, turned out to be relatively innocuous, doesn’t make it any less despicable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree too, anyone that leaks government information should go to jail.

Fuck their 1st Amendment rights.

The ability for people to tattle on the government and it’s actions is important to the citizenry for obvious reasons.

State Secrets, or Espionage are not excuses that the 1st makes. People giving data to the press at best can only be civilly charged if they were members of those organizations with agreements that they would help protect those secrets, never criminally.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Which president was it that “leaked” the existence of the stealth bomber? I think it was Carter when he said that we did not need the B1 bomber because it was obsolete or something like that.

There are many cases in which much worse info was leaked for various reasons but the leakers were never prosecuted – why is this? For example, Valerie Plame who was outted by the Bush43 administration as revenge for some perceived issue – this put her life in danger and no one even got the token slap of the wrist – bad boy!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Double Standards abound on both sides of the isle, but I only care about the 1st in its literal form.

Even if the secret being released to the media is devastating or deadly, it is still protected speech, ergo… no criminal prosecution is constitutional.

If people actually want a democracy, then no secret can be kept from the light of day. There is never any room for “secrets” in any just government. Small secrets lead to big secrets and secret operations lead to the government competing with criminals creating more crime rather than bringing them to justice.

takitus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

… with the express intent of exfiltrating classified information because she hates her country.

Your use of ‘exfiltrating’ without an object is revealing. Do you differentiate between releasing information to a journalistic outlet and providing it to a hostile government?

You also imply that Winner released what she did to The Intercept because she couldn’t find something that was not “relatively innocuous”. Do you have a source for this claim?

Furthermore: regardless of your opinion of Winner’s motives, her feelings about the US do not make her actions more or less espionage. The crucial point—though obscured by the really awful Espionage Act—is that Winner released documents relating to an issue of public importance (and which did not put any member of the US government in danger) to a news organization. This clearly seems to be the act of someone working in what she considered to be the public interest. Are you arguing that her opinions about the US government make this a criminal act, or is the release itself "despicable"?

Dan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Do you differentiate between releasing information to a journalistic outlet and providing it to a hostile government?

Why would you draw this distinction? If you release it to the press, it will quickly make its way to the readers, who will include foreign governments (friendly and hostile). And make no mistake, disclosing classified information to a friendly government (without the appropriate clearance, need to know, etc.) is just as much a violation as to a hostile government.

takitus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Why would you not draw the crucial distinction between (a) in the interest of catalyzing change, making information on government wrongdoing available to the citizens who elect that government, and (b) secretly handing information to hostile groups–and only to hostile groups–in the interest of harming a country?

If you don’t recognize a difference between these two actions, how is ‘whistleblowing’ possible?

John Cressman says:

Too bad it was so little...

Too bad the sentence was to little. This isn’t some do-gooder, this was a hate-filled spoiled little girl who wanted her 15 minutes of fame and lied and cheated to get it.

She didn’t EXPOSE some corruption or evil the government was doing, but wanted to leak classified documents to be a “hero”… all because… what? Daddy didn’t get her a pony?

takitus (profile) says:

Re: Too bad it was so little...

I believe this non-argument has been used against virtually every whistleblower in recent memory—Manning, Snowden, Drake, Ellsberg, etc. You might consider the slightly less popular “vengeful loner” and “sexual deviant” smears to mix it up a bit.

Or you could attempt to contribute something worth reading.

ECA (profile) says:

All this for what?

All this,
List of Public names and addresses?
Probably Email addresses, that everyone is asking for..
The ability to MAKE Programming Equal to or own for Electronic Elections..
Our OWN over hacked, easy to hack, Windows based system??

Anyone need ideas/concepts/Thoughts on HOW we can Mess up the election process in the USA?? Most of which are being used already.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...