The Case Against Reality Winner Was A Travesty

from the now-with-even-more-proof dept

Ever since Reality Winner was arrested, we’ve written about the ridiculousness of her case. It was yet another in a long line of cases using the Espionage Act to go after whistleblowers who aren’t spies, but are actively trying to do the right thing — and, as per the Espionage Act — not even allowed to give the context to the court. And, as we noted, the information that Winner “leaked” and for which she was sentenced to five years in prison, was publicly revealed by other government agencies anyway, which seems to completely erase any claim that the leaking of the documents caused some sort of harm to national security.

This week, 60 Minutes conducted an interview with Reality Winner and it’s worth reading (or watching). A key part is that Winner’s whistleblowing actually helped to better secure the 2018 election, providing useful information to protect against hackers:

But what prosecutors called grave damage was a bombshell of truth to the Federal Election Assistance Commission, which helps secure the vote. In hours, the commission issued an alert on the “NSA document leak.” It spelled out the top secret email addresses “utilized by the attackers.” And urged officials to “check email logs.” Blindsided by Winner’s revelation, the commission called for “full disclosure of election security intelligence.” Two former officials told us, Reality Winner helped secure the 2018 midterm election.

That sure sounds like fundamental whistleblowing, and not “espionage.” But, under the Espionage Act, Winner was not allowed to discuss any of that.

The piece also details her motivations, which were basically to make sure people knew that the president was (1) lying about election hacks, and (2) as noted above, to make sure the people who needed to actually protect our elections were aware of vulnerabilities:

President Trump: If you don’t catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking.

The president was raising doubt that Russia attacked the 2016 election. His interview with John Dickerson was typical of the time. 

President Trump: I’ll go along with Russia, could have been China, could’ve been a lot of different groups.

But it was Russia and the NSA knew it. Reality Winner had seen proof in a top secret report on an in-house newsfeed.

Reality Winner: I just kept thinking, “My God, somebody needs to step forward and put this right. Somebody.” 

The secret report said, in 2016, the Russian military “executed cyber espionage” against “122… local government organizations” “targeting officials involved in the management of voter registration systems.” It was top secret, in part, because it revealed what the U.S. knew about Russian tactics. Winner told us she was exposing a White House cover up. She printed the report, dropped it in this mailbox, addressed anonymously to an online news source that specialized in government wrongdoing. The NSA report was published a month later. 

The piece also highlights the unfair treatment Winner got as compared to things that seem a hell of a lot more serious (and much, much closer to actual espionage):

In 2008, Gregg Bergersen, a Pentagon employee, was convicted of selling secrets to the Chinese. He was seen in FBI surveillance getting his pocket stuffed with cash. His sentence was six months shorter than Reality Winner’s. In 2012, former Army general and CIA Director David Petraeus gave notebooks of top secret information to an author who was his mistress. He was charged with misdemeanor mishandling of classified information and never spent a minute in jail. 

The Espionage Act itself is a travesty and needs to be repealed. The entire setup of the law is such that it is not that useful in actual espionage cases, but has become a powerful tool for the government go after whistleblowers.

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Comments on “The Case Against Reality Winner Was A Travesty”

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DBA Phillip Cross says:

Cue white woman’s tears followed by the Gabby Petito story on Lifetime television.

Meanwhile–everyone has these horseshit opinions about Julian Assange, having punted on the broader, more heroic things that he has done for journalism, and democracy.

And–he didn’t do that so that he could help either political party, like Winner did. So, apparently, whistle blowing is only gud if clearly aligned (D) persons do it, during elections.

Bad, if done over decades, for the people, cuz’ “its the commies!”

Got it.

Anonymous Coward says:


“How come the Republicans keep getting caught cheating in elections?”

Clearly it’s bias in the system and not the fact that Republicans are more prone to cheat because they know they aren’t popular and have to gerrymander and suppress voting rights and have lost the popular vote for president for most of the last two decades.

Cattress (profile) says:


I don’t know what your link is to, since I don’t trust you, but I’m guessing it’s not to prior posts from Techdirt which are fairly supportive of Assange.
I know this is too complex for someone like you, but mature people can think that prosecuting Assange is wrong, while also feeling that he did not necessarily add valuable or useful information to public discourse.
Also, your misogyny is showing. Walking proof that while men are afraid that women will laugh at them, women are afraid that men will kill them for good reason.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
MB Imwrong says:

Assange timed his releases to impact US politics. Ms Winner acted promptly.

Assange has said that the data dump with DNC emails was not released immediately, but instead meted out. Assange did not abide the common perception that Wikileaks was an unbiased conduit, his timing was purposeful, he intended to impact US politics. Ms. Winner was caught on the horns of a dilemma, her oath to protect the constitution and the public vs her contractual security agreements. Condemning her while by celebrating Assange seems to me to be muddy thinking. John Young’s Cryptome, Ed Snowden’s work, there are better models for releasing critical secrets to benefit the public than Assange’s. His decision to time the releases puts him in a different class of leaker, making his motives far less attractive to me.

Anonymous Coward says:


True but still doesn’t excuse the persecution of a man who is first and foremost acting as a publisher. Even if the only charges that have some merit, password cracking, would stick he’d still deserve a fair trial, humane prison conditions and a sentence that isn’t a multiple of his lifetime. The espionage act is a travesty and needs to go.

DBA Phillip Cross says:

Re: Re:

Keep in mind that he was non-credibly accused of rape by CIA affiliated white females. These women worked for the CIA front organization USAID.

That tainted the entire case, front to back. It’s classic agency targeting of the white male with intellect, nd has roots in post WW2 MKULTRA.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Keep in mind that you have non-credibly accused women of being CIA affiliated and participating in a conspiracy. Should I speculate that you work for Assange as a disinformation agent or does a standard for verifiable evidence magically appear in your wheelhouse when you’re accused as loosely as you accuse others?

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:



Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

Which of these did she commit? Or, perhaps she thought more along the lines of “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

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