NSA Leaker Makes Espionage Distinction in Sentencing Memo

AUGUSTA, Ga. (CN) – Jailed for a over year since her leak of a classified intelligence report, Reality Winner faces sentencing next week for a crime that has led some to hail her bravery and others to brand her a traitor.

“At the time of the offense, Reality was an impetuous twenty-five year old, in her first full-time ‘real’ job since being honorably discharged from the military,” Winner’s Aug. 15 sentencing memorandum states. “She acknowledges responsibility for her singular and serious act, recognizes the severity of it, and is prepared to accept her punishment. But, Reality is not a terrorist. Despite the rhetoric that has flowed freely throughout this case, she is not a hater of her country or its people — she is quite the opposite.”

Reality Winner, of Georgia, faces sentencing on Aug. 23 for mailing a top-secret report to a news organization. (Photo via Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office)

The first government contractor to be criminally charged under the Trump administration, Winner pleaded guilty in June and faces sentencing on Aug. 23 for a single count of transmitting national security information.

A year earlier, Winner was arrested within a month of her decision to send reporters at The Intercept a top-secret intelligence report that the National Security Agency had produced on Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Winner’s sentencing memo offers some context to why she abused her security clearance: In December 2016, Winner was simultaneously mourning the death that month of her father, had ended her six-year career with the U.S. Air Force and “was swept up by the political fervor surrounding the 2016 presidential election.”

The Texas native had been a new hire at Pluribus International, working as a linguist assigned to an NSA facility in Augusta, Georgia, when she leaked to The Intercept.

“It was, as Reality has admitted, a naive attempt to ‘change things,’ in which she abused her security clearance and ran afoul of federal law — an act which she acknowledges was criminally wrong,” her memo states.

The government recommended in its own sentencing memo a day earlier that Winner face the 63-month sentence to which she stipulated in her plea agreement.

Winner’s attorneys — she is represented by the Georgia firms Baker Donelson and Bell & Brigham — noted in their brief that five-year penalty is more than fair.

“Indeed, the 63-month term of imprisonment agreed to by both parties is in excess of many prior Espionage Act prosecutions, including those with arguably worse conduct — providing the necessary deterrence,” the memo states.

Emphasizing Winner’s status as a first-time offender, the brief notes that “there is simply no need to protect the public from her.”

“Reality’s singular offense was an unfortunate act in an otherwise commendable life of service,” the memo continues.

Arguing that a sentence under the Espionage Act would be overly severe, the brief makes the point that this law’s sentencing guideline recommendations “were drafted with actual espionage — selling government secrets to foreign adversaries, usually for monetary gain — in mind.”

“While the charged conduct is no doubt serious, there is no allegation or evidence of actual spying or treason on the part of Reality Winner,” the memo continues.

Justice Department spokesperson Wyn Hornbuckle declined to comment beyond what attorneys put in the Tuesday sentencing memo. Winner’s attorneys did not return a request for comment.

U.S. District Judge Randal Hall will sentence Winner on Aug. 23 in Augusta.

As published by The Intercept, the NSA intelligence report Winner leaked detailed how Russia targeted U.S. companies and government officials by using “voter registration themed emails, spoor election-related products and services, [and] research absentee ballot email addresses.”

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