Ex-NSA informant Reality Winner on the way to freedom

Reality Winner has been moved from a US federal prison to an open asylum. The Winners attorney Alison Grinter Allen announced on Twitter. Former indirect NSA employee Winner has been in custody since June 2016 for making a classified report on the US website The Intercept had passed on.

The NSA document accuses a Russian military intelligence agency of attacking US electoral authorities, including through spear phishing. Winner was sentenced to 63 months in prison plus three years of subsequent surveillance for revealing the intelligence (USA v Reality Leigh Winner, US District Court Southern Georgia, Az. 1:17-mj-00024).

It was the highest sentence a US federal court would incur for leaking official documents to the media. The then US President Donald Trump criticized the high sentence. Nevertheless, Winner’s lawyer and family, as well as Amnesty International, have campaigned in vain for a pardon or a reduction in sentence.

A humanitarian release was also refused. The woman had justified her application in April 2020 by saying that the stress of the COVID pandemic raging in prison was making her bulimia worse. In addition, as a lung patient, she is particularly at risk. In July, Winner actually fell ill with COVID-19 in custody, which continued to cause problems months later.

The fact that the inmate was moved from prison to an open asylum a few months earlier is thanks to her particularly good conduct. In the next few weeks it will be decided whether she has to stay in the open asylum or whether she can go into house arrest. After the 63 months, Winner will remain under surveillance for another three years, which is associated with strict requirements and restrictions.

From the point of view of her supporters, Winner is a whistleblower who has informed the public about a threat to the democratic elections in her home country. The woman did not reveal any inadmissible machinations of the NSA or other US services, but disclosed the results of the investigation. Reality Winner was convicted for this.

The FBI’s counter-espionage department said it only took two days to convict the defendant in 2016. Prior to the publication of the NSA document, The Intercept had asked the NSA and the US director of intelligence for comments. The FBI recognized a crease on the scan sent by The Intercept – an indication that the document had been printed out and not sent electronically.

The NSA’s internal monitoring systems indicated that the document had been printed six times. According to the FBI, only one of these six people had emailed The Intercept from their desktop computer: Reality Winner. The then 24-year-old had only started to work a few months earlier in an NSA facility in Georgia, as a job at Pluribus International.

Edward Snowden also worked for the US intelligence service through such a contract. Wikileaks spokesman Julian Assange angry The Intercept for the inadequate protection of informants. Wikileaks offered a controversial bounty on the by name unknown Intercept journalist. Assange has been in custody in the UK for two years because the US is seeking extradition. The Australian is indicted in the US under the same anti-espionage law from 1917 that made Reality Winner doomed.


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