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.