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.