The Reality of the Whistleblower

Using the FBI transcript, ‘Reality,’ the new Max program, documents the initial interrogation of ‘espionage whistleblower’ Reality Winner in real-time.

04 July 2023 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News

Reality Leigh Winner (born 1991)[5][6] is an American U.S. Air Force veteran and former NSA translator. In 2018, she was given the longest prison sentence ever imposed for an unauthorized release of government information to the media[7] after she leaked an intelligence report about Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[8] She was sentenced to five years and three months in federal prison.[9]

On June 3, 2017, while employed by the military contractor Pluribus International Corporation, Winner was arrested on suspicion of leaking an intelligence report about Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections from the National Security Agency (NSA) to the news website The Intercept. The report indicated that Russian hackers accessed voter registration rolls in the United States with an email phishing operation,[10] though it was unclear whether any changes had been made.

Concerns were raised that The Intercept‘s handling of the material exposed her as the source and contributed to her arrest.[11] Twice denied bail, Winner was held at the Lincoln County Jail in Lincolnton, Georgia.[12] On August 23, 2018, Winner was convicted of “removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet” and sentenced to five years and three months in prison as part of a plea deal.[13] She was incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, and released to a transitional facility on June 2, 2021.[14][15][16][17]


When FBI agents arrived at her home on June 3, 2017, Winner didn’t insist on consulting a lawyer, and the FBI agents failed to inform her of her Miranda rights when Winner was arrested.[32] When her house was searched and she was initially questioned, Winner stated that she “wasn’t trying to be a Snowden or anything”.[33]

The Department of Justice announced her arrest on June 5.[34] She was detained even before The Intercept published the article that was based upon the leaks.[35] The Intercept report described Russian military attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election by hacking a U.S. voting software supplier and by sending spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before the November 8 election.[36] The story was based upon a top secret May 5, 2017, National Security Agency (NSA) document leaked to them anonymously.[29]

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, called on the public to support Winner,[4] offering a $10,000 reward for information about a reporter for The Intercept who had allegedly helped the U.S. government identify Winner as the leaker.[37] Assange wrote on Twitter that “Winner is no Clapper or Petraeus with ‘elite immunity’. She’s a young woman against the wall for talking to the press.”[38]

Role of The Intercept

The Intercept sent copies of the documents to the NSA on May 30 to confirm their veracity, and the NSA notified the FBI. According to Vice magazine, an FBI report said the documents “appeared to be folded and/or creased, suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.”[35] Through an internal audit, the NSA determined that Winner was one of six workers who had accessed the particular documents on its classified system, but only Winner’s computer had been in contact with The Intercept using a personal email account. On June 3, the FBI obtained a warrant to search Winner’s electronic devices, and she was arrested.[39]

Both journalists and security experts have suggested that The Intercept‘s handling of the reporting, which included publishing the documents unredacted and including the printer tracking dots, was used to identify Winner as the leaker.[40][41] In October 2020, The Intercept‘s co-founding editor Glenn Greenwald wrote that Winner had sent her documents to The Intercept‘s New York newsroom with no request that any specific journalist work on them. He called her exposure a “deeply embarrassing newsroom failure” resulting from “speed and recklessness” for which he was publicly blamed “despite having no role in it.” He said editor-in-chief Betsy Reed “oversaw, edited and controlled that story.”[42] An internal review conducted by The Intercept into its handling of the document provided by Winner found that its “practices fell short of the standards to which we hold ourselves”.[7]


Reality Interview Transcript

* Stand With Reality Nonprofit is comprised of advocates of Reality Winner and all whistleblowers. We are seeking to raise awareness of the US Government’s use of the antiquated 1917 Espionage Act against US citizen whistleblowers. The act was originally designed to punish spies against the US, not those seeking to enlighten the public to the Government’s corruption.

Reality Winner

Who is Reality Leigh Winner?

 What Did Reality Winner Do? (Continued to the right on desktop and  below on mobile.)

Reality Leigh Winner is a 29-year-old US Air Force veteran who dedicated her career to serving the United States. Prior to becoming a federal NSA contractor, Reality served in the Air Force for 6 years, including as a language analyst — she speaks Pashto, Farsi, and Dari.

Reality was honored with the Air Force Commendation Medal, for members who have “distinguished themselves by meritorious achievement and service.” The award noted that she “provided over 1,900 hours of enemy intelligence exploitation and assisted in geolocating 120 enemy combatants.”

Reality had no criminal history prior to her record breaking sentence and always devoted time to help those less fortunate. Her stepfather, Gary Davis, describes her as “a patriot,” while her mother, Billie Winner-Davis says, “She loves children. She loves animals … She’s not a threat to anyone.  Reality tries to help everyone.”

Outside of her work, Reality was a yoga instructor and a dedicated social justice advocate who spoke out when others fell silent.  Reality Winner is a caring person who only wants to help.

What did Reality Winner share with the media?

Reality Winner mailed a classified document to The Intercept describing the attempted hacking of U.S. election infrastructure by the Russian government. According to The Intercept:

“Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept…The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document…”

The document was vital to the public’s understanding of Russia’s attempt to influence U.S. elections, and it was the how many state officials first found out about spearphishing attempts in their election support companies.  This helped drive home the importance of strong security, public auditing, and accountability in our election systems. And though the document belongs in public view and should never have been classified, it remains classified to this day, while also being printed in public record, along with a four-page analysis of it, through the Intercept.

What Was Reality Winner Charged With?

Winner was charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917, 18 U.S.C. § 793(e). According to this section of law, someone with access who transmits classified documents can face severe punishments if “the possessor has reason to believe” that the documents “could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.”

The Espionage Act, written over 100 years ago, was meant for spies and saboteurs, yet the US government has transformed laws in recent years in order to weaponize the Espionage Act, for the purpose of putting leakers and whistleblowers in jail for giving information to journalists in order to inform the American public.

It’s impossible for a whistleblower charged under the Espionage Act to receive a fair trial, because they are denied an opportunity to explain why they shared documents and are prevented from ever discussing the harm—or lack thereof—suffered by the country as a result of the leaks. The importance of the documents to public discourse has been considered inadmissible in all cases brought in the modern era.

The vague language of the Espionage Act makes it ripe for abuse, making it a potential weapon against both whistleblowers as well as news outlets that publish leaked documents. Many civil liberties experts have questioned whether or not the Espionage Act would stand up to a First Amendment challenge.

PEN America on whistleblowers and free Expression

In June 2017 the DOJ filed a criminal complaint under the Espionage Act against Reality Winner, a federal contractor suspected of leaking an NSA document to The Intercept describing Russia’s attempts to hack the 2016 American election. Winner was denied bail because she was deemed “dangerous” to society after warning Americans about Russia’s interference (this is in sharp contrast to Paul Manafort, who was initially granted bail despite suspicions he colluded with the Russian government). Although a bi-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that many state election officials learned about Russia’s hacking from the press—not the executive branch—and the main story about the hacking was based on the document Winner was accused of leaking, she probably would not have been allowed to mention this during her trial. Courts have historically refused to allow defendants facing Espionage Act charges to argue that their leaks were in the public interest, or mention their motive or any reforms that resulted from their disclosure. Faced with these obstacles and the possibility of a 10-year jail sentence, Winner recently agreed to a plea deal.

The Trump Administration’s War on Sources

Sydney Sweeney as Reality Winner in Tina Satter’s film “Reality”

Reality Winner’s Story Was Never About a Leak

Tina Satter’s film “Reality” on HBO captures the cruelty of the surveillance state.

David Klion | June 5, 2023 | TNR

The number of Americans who hold top secret security clearances—an estimated 1.2 million—likely exceeds the number who live in Montana. In June 2017, one of them, a 26-year-old Air Force linguist with the stranger-than-fiction name of Reality Winner, decided to print out a classified report from the National Security Agency and mail a copy to journalists.

Specifically, she chose The Intercept, the left-leaning news site launched by Glenn Greenwald—after he won a Pulitzer for publishing Edward Snowden’s leaks about NSA surveillance—with the core mission of soliciting and publishing similar leaks from within the national security state.

But both Winner and staffers at The Intercept mishandled the documents, and within days the FBI showed up with a search warrant at Winner’s home in Augusta, Georgia. After extracting a confession from Winner with no attorney present and without reading her Miranda rights, they arrested her—before the article based on her leak had even been published*—and she was sentenced under the Espionage Act to five years and three months in federal prison, the longest such sentence ever imposed for leaking classified documents to the media (thanks to good behavior, she was released after three years).

The specific issue Winner was attempting to inform the public about, Russia’s interference campaign in the 2016 presidential election, was a national obsession in 2017, but interest in it has mostly dried up since Robert Mueller’s much-anticipated report failed to end Donald Trump’s presidency.

To the extent that “Russiagate” is still in the news, it’s because the right, along with certain parts of the left, now argues that the entire scandal was a hoax engineered by Democrats, the media, and the deep state to discredit Trump. But however regrettable the liberal hysteria, hyperbole, and conspiracizing that came in its wake, there was a real Russian campaign to bolster Trump that took multiple documented forms—from direct influence over key figures in Trump’s orbit and hacking and releasing the private emails of Democratic National Committee staffers, to a spear-phishing campaign targeted at local election officials.

It was the last of these, a matter of basic election security, that Winner decided to risk her career and her freedom to inform the public about. She surely never intended or expected that her own story would turn out to be of more lasting interest than the contents of the leak, but that’s what happened. In 2019, the playwright Tina Satter adapted the FBI transcript of its interrogation and arrest of Winner into a stage play, Is This a Room, and now, four years later, that play in turn has been adapted as an HBO original movie called Reality, starring Sydney Sweeney in the title role.

Spanning 83 minutes and proceeding in real time, with just a handful of speaking roles, Reality fulfills the double meaning of its title—every line of dialogue is authentic, everything happened just as portrayed, and Sweeney consulted with Winner extensively to capture her exact mannerisms—and succeeds at turning a simple recording into riveting human drama. The result is sufficiently plausible that Winner, despite her cooperation, has said she can’t bring herself to watch and relive what must have been one of the worst moments of her life.

The intimate, unsensationalized approach allows for a close read of how the security state polices itself. Winner’s FBI interrogators, played by Marchánt Davis and Josh Hamilton, both prefer to assume the good cop role and spend at least half the film’s running time attempting to establish rapport with a terrified Winner. Winner lives alone in a somewhat rough neighborhood with a cat and a dog and several firearms; she does competitive CrossFit and yoga; and she signed up to serve her country, all of which her cheerful interlocutors profess to find relatable.

She’s not so different from them, they seem to be saying. When she requests that she be able to put her groceries in the fridge or to attend to her pets, they do their best to accommodate her even as they scour her home for incriminating evidence.

We learn that Winner is a talented linguist who has learned Dari, Pashto, and Farsi to help carry out America’s “war on terrorism” (per her authorized “Stand With Reality” website, prior to her arrest Winner “provided over 1,900 hours of enemy intelligence exploitation and assisted in geolocating 120 enemy combatants”); she seems scared not only for her freedom but for her career, which up until now has been full of promise.

When the Feds finally get around to what they suspect she’s done, they insist to her again and again that they don’t think she’s a spy but rather a public servant who made one uncharacteristic mistake. There’s a gently couched threat to make her situation much worse if she won’t own up to that mistake, which she persists for as long as she can in not doing. But she knows, and we know, that she’s trapped no matter what she says, and that the menace of the carceral state lurks behind all the superficial pleasantries.

The viewer can only speculate about what makes Winner different from the FBI agents who arrest her, or from countless other ordinary servants of the deep state who would never dream of leaking classified information for any reason. Her actions, though undoubtedly well intentioned, never had the same impact on the public debate as those of her fellow leakers Snowden or Chelsea Manning.

Greenwald, whose Snowden coverage helped inspire Winner, has been a vocal Russiagate skeptic and had no involvement in the Winner story, though he has been happy to criticize his now-former colleagues for their failure to protect her, and has been dismissive of the substance of her leak. In December 2017, just months after Winner’s arrest, Greenwald made the first of what would be dozens of friendly appearances on Fox News over the next several years, usually hosted by the pro-Trump demagogues Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham.

Winner, for her part, was apparently driven to leak by her supervisors in Augusta playing Fox News in the background while she worked in her cubicle. She saw how right-wing media was trying to deny that Russia had intervened on Trump’s behalf, and she wondered why the public couldn’t know the same relevant facts she was privy to.

Winner comes across as a sympathetic figure and a martyr, but Satter leaves ambiguous what exactly she’s been martyred for. There’s no question as to her factual guilt, and while there’s a clear public interest argument for what she chose to leak (and no evidence she put anyone in danger by doing so), the case that her leaks helped anyone is far less clear.

One suspects that if she weren’t young, female, and white, she might have gotten a more overtly hostile interrogation than she did. In her own mind, perhaps she was resisting an encroaching Trump dictatorship (Satter has Winner linger on a Confederate flag she spots across the street, suggesting her fundamental discomfort in the Trump-era Deep South), but there’s no reason to think she would have been treated any more leniently by the FBI under Obama or Biden.

If Winner is a martyr, then, it might be to the classification of information in general. Daniel Ellsberg, arguably the most influential leaker in the history of the U.S. national security state, has said that overclassification is rampant, and that only a small percentage of what gets classified meets legal criteria for secrecy.

The trend over time has been toward a larger and larger bureaucracy, more and more of which is manned by private contractors (Winner was working for one such contractor at the time of her arrest, which is how she had access to NSA reports), supervising a larger and larger amount of arbitrarily classified information—essentially, a whole parallel section of American society with no pretense of free speech or open debate, where information doesn’t want to be free and the consequences for freeing it anyway are brutally repressive.

Winner, in theory exactly the kind of earnest and gifted individual the U.S. government should want working for it, was quickly brought down by the contradictions of a self-perpetuating system that values conformity and mediocrity over talent and initiative.

Reality arrives at a curious time, when interest in its subject matter would seem to be at a low ebb. The “war on terrorism,” though it never truly ends, has been deprioritized, and the languages Winner diligently learned are of limited professional use since the Biden administration’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.

Russiagate feels like yesterday’s news, as does the apocalyptic political climate of Trump’s presidency, when dissidents across the federal government felt compelled to take career risks. Winner herself is no longer in prison; though she’s not exactly free, her situation lacks urgency. Despite all this, Reality is undeniably compelling cinema, and it raises some implicit questions about what qualities we do and don’t value in public servants. This is a story about a young woman who felt an idealistic impulse to serve her country, and how her country crushed that idealism.

‘United States vs. Reality Winner’ Review: Doc Defends the Whistleblower Who Leaked Russian Election Interference

Sonia Kennebeck’s engrossing documentary charts the case of an unlikely, low-level document leaker who provoked the full wrath of the Trump administration.

By Dennis Harvey | Mar 17, 2021 | Variety

A sense of rising U.S. governmental secrecy and punishment of whistleblowers is the primary political takeaway from “United States vs. Reality Winner.” Sonia Kennebeck’s documentary chronicles the incarceration and trial of the titular young intelligence specialist who leaked an NSA document revealing Russian attempts at interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections — intel the Trump administration was evidently keen on suppressing.

That her leakage of classified materials to media became the sole, punitive focus of prosecution, shutting out the issue of citizens’ need to know, provides the central moral conundrum here. But the film mostly backs away from a bigger picture of international espionage and possible Stateside collusion to focus on the personal level of Winner’s family, as her forced silence behind bars makes them her principal advocates. It’s an involving, empathetic if one-sided portrait whose limited insight into still-incendiary issues may actually smooth passage to broadcast, streaming and other platforms after its SXSW premiere.

Reality Winner (yes, that is her birth name) is a Texas native who, as seen in old home movies, was studious, adventurous and altruistic from an early age. She declined a Fulbright scholarship to enlist in the Air Force, getting decorated during six years’ service for work as a cryptologic linguist aiding long-distance in Afghanistan drone activities. In 2016 she was honorably discharged, her continuing top security clearance snagging a translating job in Augusta, Ga., for private NSA contractor Pluribus.

It was there in early 2017 that she was shocked by an office-circulated intelligence report confirming rumored Russian cyber-warfare intrusions into local U.S. voting infrastructures during the prior election year. She copied and anonymously sent it to New York-based online journalistic platform The Intercept, which had already reported on Obama-era NSA intel leaked by Edward Snowden. Nearly four months later, in early June, she was arrested — and has remained in custody ever since.

It’s been argued that The Intercept itself carelessly expedited that arrest by returning the document for verification to the NSA, which soon determined where and by whom it was copied. In any case, the 25-year-old found her home surrounded by 11 mostly-armed FBI agents who nonetheless played “good cop” in posing as her allies, coaxing a confession without reading her Miranda Rights or conveying the gravity of the situation. That exchange, released as audio to the filmmakers last month (though actors are used to voice parts of the transcript as well), constitutes a running thread.

The documentary’s remaining bulk is a chronological account of Winner’s long initial incarceration (she was repeatedly denied bail), trial and subsequent sentence, plus her family members’ constant support both privately and in the media.

We only hear Winner herself in phone calls with those relatives. Until the case (to which she ultimately pled guilty) was over, she and her attorneys were prevented from speaking publicly. As a federal prisoner now, she remains equally constrained. Her sentence was the longest ever imposed in U.S. Federal court for a similar crime. It is noted that the hitherto-rare charging of whistleblowers under the 1917 Espionage Act greatly increased during the Obama regime. (Jon Kiriakou, Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden are interviewed here, the last still living under political asylum in Moscow.) Of four cases in which persons were arrested for leaking classified intel under Trump, three were related to Russia.

The elephant in the room here is whether our government is using the law to muzzle whistleblowers releasing information it shouldn’t be concealing anyway. The report Winner leaked has since become publicly available, and there’s no evidence its disclosure harmed national security. Ergo the harsh justice dealt her is hard to interpret as anything but a means to intimidate and silence future Reality Winners.

She remains an enigma here, not just because she can’t be interviewed, but because the primary focus on her understandably distraught, admirably pro-active family members paints too limited a personality picture. Supporters feel she was victimized by deliberate misrepresentation as some sort of “America-hating” radical. But we could use greater clarification of statements she made, whether in joking or otherwise, that were easily exploited by conservative politicos and pundits to make her appear so. (It would have also provided contextualizing background to survey reactions from Trump’s general base.) The film conveys that she was young, idealistic, perhaps reckless, while sidestepping her actual political beliefs. There’s no question, however, that powerful foes deliberately buried her stellar military service and other résumé items — plus the stolen document’s discomfiting content — to tar her.

Winner’s stepfather comments that such targeting of civilians who expose unpleasant government intel could theoretically happen to any American. “United States” is fortunate in that its subjects’ relatives are particularly articulate and relatable fellow citizens, as are most of the other voices here. Snowden, in particular, sums up the larger issues at stake in commandingly vivid terms. That whistleblowers generally benefit society is underlined by the news that Winner’s leakage directly led to stepped-up precautions that made the 2020 U.S. election the most secure on record.

Kennebeck (“National Bird”) does not disguise an advocacy stance, though closing text notes relevant governmental officials and agencies stonewalled all participation requests. As in her Toronto-premiered “Enemies of the State” last year, reenactments are discreetly utilized, mostly providing visual content during excerpts from the subject’s original FBI questioning. Maxine Goedicke’s editorial assembly is well-judged, other major contributions ditto. For all that “United States vs. Reality Winner” illuminates, there remain plenty of questions left over one hopes the MIA protagonist will be free to answer at last after her expected release late this year.


Winner, who received the longest-ever prison sentence for serving as a journalistic source, has moved to a federal halfway house in Texas.

Peter Maass | June 14 2021 | The Intercept

REALITY WINNER, the most prominent and harshly punished whistleblower of the Trump era, has been released to a halfway house after serving most of her five-year sentence for leaking a classified document on Russia’s effort to hack the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Court filings make clear that Winner had wanted to make Americans aware that the government had concluded that Russia secretly tried to gain access to U.S. voting systems in 2016, contrary to what the Trump administration said in 2017. Winner was a contractor for the National Security Agency when she disclosed the document, which was published by The Intercept in June 2017. The NSA document described phishing attempts by Russian military intelligence against local U.S. election officials — and was the most convincing evidence to emerge of the Russian effort.

Winner was prosecuted under the Espionage Act, even though election officials in the U.S. indicated that it was her action, rather than warnings from their own government, that had made them aware they were targets of Russian hackers. While the Obama administration had used the draconian Espionage Act against a record number of leakers, none received a sentence as long as Winner’s, who pled guilty rather than face what could have been an even longer sentence if she had gone to trial.

The injustice of her case was highlighted when Marina Butina, a Russian national, received an 18-month sentence in 2018 for trying to influence American political figures without registering as a foreign agent. It struck many observers as dumbfounding that an actual Russian agent would receive a lighter jail sentence than an American trying to reveal a secret Russian effort to alter the outcome of an election. Winner was even denied compassionate release during the Covid-19 pandemic — and subsequently contracted the disease.

Although Winner was prosecuted by President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice, the decorated Air Force veteran has not received any favors from President Joe Biden. She has been released according to a normal schedule that takes account of her good behavior while behind bars, her lawyer said in a statement. Winner’s request for a pardon and commutation of her sentence has not been granted.

“It is wonderful news that Reality Winner is finally out of prison,” said Betsy Reed, editor-in-chief of The Intercept. “Her arrest and 63-month sentence, the longest in federal court history for the alleged crime of being a journalist’s source, was a massive injustice meant to silence other whistleblowers and threaten the practice of national security journalism. The Trump Justice Department should never have prosecuted her, and President Biden should have pardoned her.”

The Press Freedom Defense Fund, which is part of First Look Institute, The Intercept’s parent company, supported Winner’s legal defense.

Winner was serving her sentence at a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, and is now in a halfway house in the state. She remains formally incarcerated. According to a statement from her lawyer, Alison Grinter Allen, “Reality and her family have asked for privacy during the transition process as they work to heal the trauma of incarceration and build back the years lost. Her release is not a product of the pardon or compassionate release process, but rather the time earned from exemplary behavior while incarcerated.”


A top-secret National Security Agency report details a months-long Russian hacking effort against the U.S. election infrastructure.

05 June 2017 | Matthew ColeRichard EspositoSam BiddleRyan Grim | The Intercept

RUSSIAN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept.

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A U.S. intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive.

The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document:

Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.

This NSA summary judgment is sharply at odds with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial last week that Russia had interfered in foreign elections: “We never engaged in that on a state level, and have no intention of doing so.” Putin, who had previously issued blanket denials that any such Russian meddling occurred, for the first time floated the possibility that freelance Russian hackers with “patriotic leanings” may have been responsible. The NSA report, on the contrary, displays no doubt that the cyber assault was carried out by the GRU.

The NSA analysis does not draw conclusions about whether the interference had any effect on the election’s outcome and concedes that much remains unknown about the extent of the hackers’ accomplishments. However, the report raises the possibility that Russian hacking may have breached at least some elements of the voting system, with disconcertingly uncertain results.

The NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence were both contacted for this article. Officials requested that we not publish or report on the top secret document and declined to comment on it. When informed that we intended to go ahead with this story, the NSA requested a number of redactions. The Intercept agreed to some of the redaction requests after determining that the disclosure of that material was not clearly in the public interest.

The report adds significant new detail to the picture that emerged from the unclassified intelligence assessment about Russian election meddling released by the Obama administration in January. The January assessment presented the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions but omitted many specifics, citing concerns about disclosing sensitive sources and methods. The assessment concluded with high confidence that the Kremlin ordered an extensive, multi-pronged propaganda effort “to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.”

That review did not attempt to assess what effect the Russian efforts had on the election, despite the fact that “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards.” According to the Department of Homeland Security, the assessment reported reassuringly, “the types of systems we observed Russian actors targeting or compromising are not involved in vote tallying.”

The NSA has now learned, however, that Russian government hackers, part of a team with a “cyber espionage mandate specifically directed at U.S. and foreign elections,” focused on parts of the system directly connected to the voter registration process, including a private sector manufacturer of devices that maintain and verify the voter rolls. Some of the company’s devices are advertised as having wireless internet and Bluetooth connectivity, which could have provided an ideal staging point for further malicious actions.

The Intercept Promised to Reveal Everything. Then Its Own Scandal Hit.

Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire founder of eBay, was the benefactor of journalists’ dreams.Credit…Randy Shropshire/Getty Images

 Sept. 13, 2020 |  Ben Smith | The New York Times

Where were you when you first heard about the Snowden leak?

The huge breach of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program in June 2013 was one of the proudest moments in modern journalism, and one of the purest: A brave and disgusted whistle-blower, Edward Snowden, revealed the government’s extensive surveillance of American and foreign citizens. Two journalists protected their source, revealed his secrets and won the blessings of the Establishment — a Pulitzer Prize and an Oscar for it.

One of the people who fell in love with that story was Pierre Omidyar, the earnest if remote billionaire founder of eBay. That October, he pledged $250 million for a new institution led by those two journalists, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. Mr. Omidyar was the benefactor of journalists’ dreams. He promised total independence for a new nonprofit news site, The Intercept, under the umbrella of his First Look Media. The Intercept was founded in the belief that “the prime value of journalism is that it imposes transparency, and thus accountability, on those who wield the greatest governmental and corporate power.” The outlet’s first mission was to set up a secure archive of Mr. Snowden’s documents, and to keep mining them for stories.

The recent history of the news business has been about what happens when your traditional business is disrupted by the internet and your revenues dry up. But at The Intercept and First Look, the story is of a different destabilizing force: gushers of money.

In 2017, the for-profit arm of the company had budgeted $40 million for a growing staff and bets on movies and television shows, a former executive said, while the nonprofit arm spent about $26 million in 2017 and again in 2018 according to its public filings, most of it on The Intercept.

High-profile stars collected big salaries — Mr. Greenwald brought in more than $500,000 in 2015 —  and they sometimes clashed in public with their titular bosses over the rocky efforts to build an organization. Writers warred on Twitter and in Slack messages over Donald Trump, race and the politics of the left. Mr. Greenwald continues to infuriate younger colleagues with tweets like one denouncing “woke ideologues.”

Not long after Mr. Omidyar wired his first dollar, he found himself presiding over chaos so public that Vanity Fair asked in 2015 “whether First Look Media can make headlines that aren’t about itself?”

All the drama would make this another colorful story about extreme newsroom dysfunction had The Intercept not caught the attention of a naïve National Security Agency linguist with the improbable name of Reality Winner in 2017. Ms. Winner, then 25, had been listening to the site’s podcast. She printed out a secret report on Russian cyberattacks on American voting software that seemed to address some of Mr. Greenwald’s doubts about Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and mailed it to The Intercept’s Washington, D.C., post office box in early May.

The Intercept scrambled to publish a story on the report, ignoring the most basic security precautions. The lead reporter on the story sent a copy of the document, which contained a crease showing it had been printed out, to the N.S.A. media affairs office, all but identifying Ms. Winner as the leaker.

On June 3, about three weeks after Ms. Winner sent her letter, two F.B.I. agents showed up at her home in Georgia to arrest her. They announced the arrest soon after The Intercept’s article was published on June 5.

Reality Winner, a former National Security Agency linguist, is serving a prison sentence of five years and three months for mailing a classified U.S. report to The Intercept.
Reality Winner, a former National Security Agency linguist, is serving a prison sentence of five years and three months for mailing a classified U.S. report to The Intercept.Credit…Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle, via Associated Press

“They sold her out, and they messed it up so that she would get caught, and they didn’t protect their source,” her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, said in a telephone interview last week. “The best years of her life are being spent in a system where she doesn’t belong.”

Failing to protect an anonymous leaker is a cardinal sin in journalism, though the remarkable thing in this instance is that The Intercept didn’t seem to try to protect its source. The outlet immediately opened an investigation into its blunder, which confirmed the details that the Justice Department had gleefully announced after it arrested Ms. Winner. They included the fact that The Intercept led the authorities to Ms. Winner when it circulated the document in an effort to verify it, and then published the document, complete with the identifying markings, on the internet.

Internal emails and records I obtained reveal the tumult that led to one of the highest-profile journalistic disasters in recent memory and provide broader insights into the limits of a news organization dependent on an inattentive billionaire’s noblesse oblige. A spokeswoman for Mr. Omidyar declined to make him available for an interview. The New York Times is not publishing the documents, which run to more than 100 pages, because they include discussions of sourcing and security measures.

The documents, among them two internal reports on the Reality Winner incident that have not been made public, were given to me by people who were senior employees in 2017 and contend that the organization failed to hold itself accountable for its mistakes and for what happened to Ms. Winner as a result.

Some current and former staff members I interviewed expressed fundamental questions about the internal investigation into the debacle, including why Betsy Reed, the editor in chief, had assigned Lynn Dombek, then The Intercept’s head of research, who reported directly to her, to work on the investigation, under the direction of an outside law firm.

Ms. Reed, who had been brought in to stabilize The Intercept and rein in its big personalities in 2015, told me she faced “a treacherous situation” after the article was published. She needed to balance a “legitimate demand for transparency” that aligned with The Intercept’s founding values with lawyers’ strong advice to stay silent to protect her reporters and their sources.

Ms. Poitras said The Intercept should have held itself to a higher standard.

“We founded this organization on the principle of holding the powerful accountable and protecting whistle-blowers,” Ms. Poitras said in an interview. “Not only was this a cover-up and betrayal of core values, but the lack of any meaningful accountability promoted a culture of impunity and puts future sources at risk.”

The internal tensions were boiling over one night, just before Thanksgiving 2017, when the two American journalists who helped bring Mr. Snowden’s revelations public were exchanging late-night emails, which I obtained. They were writing not about government misconduct, but their own newsroom’s.

Ms. Reed’s oversight of the investigation, Ms. Poitras wrote, was an attempt “to cover up what happened for self-protective reasons.”

It was, Mr. Greenwald agreed in response, a “whitewash.”

The documents fall short of revealing a conspiratorial cover-up. Instead they show an extreme version of the human errors, hubris and mismanagement familiar to anyone who has worked in a newsroom — and the struggle of The Intercept to live up to its lofty founding ideals in dealing with its own errors.

Ms. Winner may have thought she was mailing the documents to Mr. Greenwald and Ms. Poitras, who went to great lengths to protect Mr. Snowden. But Mr. Greenwald was in Brazil and when he heard about the document, he was not interested. He told me that he considered its claims about Russian hacking during the 2016 race “wildly overblown” and that it didn’t include direct evidence to persuade him otherwise.

Ms. Poitras, meanwhile, had at that point left The Intercept, and gone on to establish a nonprofit production firm, Field of Vision, a part of First Look Media, which also includes The Intercept and Mr. Omidyar’s other ventures.

Laura Poitras, at the Sundance Film Festival in January. She was one of two journalists who revealed Edward Snowden’s secrets.
Laura Poitras, at the Sundance Film Festival in January. She was one of two journalists who revealed Edward Snowden’s secrets.Credit…Jeremy Chan/Getty Images

Ms. Reed and her deputy, Roger Hodge, gave the story to a pair of established television journalists: Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito. Mr. Cole, formerly of NBC, had collaborated with Mr. Greenwald on the Snowden stories and was on staff. Mr. Esposito, also a veteran of broadcast news at NBC News and ABC News, was brought in from outside and is now the top spokesman for the New York Police Department.

Ms. Reed told me she’d brought them in partly because The Intercept’s outsider posture had left it without the inside sources who could verify documents like Ms. Winner’s. But their reflex to reach out to national security officials carried its own risk.

“If you get a document that purports to be from the N.S.A., it should be a five-alarm fire,” a member of The Intercept’s high-powered security team, Erinn Clark, said in her interview for the internal inquiry. “Go to a secure room, with an editor, freeze where you are. You are not aware who you are exposing or putting at risk.”

Instead, Mr. Cole put the document in his bag and got on a train to New York.

One concern did cross his mind.

“I thought at the time there would be an audit if they printed on a government printer,” he said, according to the internal review notes. “I forgot about that thought.”

Later, he called a source in the intelligence community in an attempt to verify the document, and casually revealed its postmark.

”My source said something about, ‘How did it come to us?’ I said in the mail, from Georgia, and my source laughed about that,” he recalled during the internal investigation. Then, Mr. Cole mentioned that the postmark was Fort Gordon, Ga., which is home to the N.S.A.’s Cryptologic Center. “‘There’s a logic to that,’ the source said.”

The startling carelessness about protecting Ms. Winner was particularly mystifying at an organization that had been founded on security. The Intercept had hired leaders in digital security, Ms. Clark and Micah Lee, for just such situations. Mr. Cole did not involve them at all.

Mr. Cole and Mr. Esposito said they’d been pushed to rush the story to publication, but Mr. Cole also acknowledged that failing to consult with the security team was a “face plant.”

The Intercept’s leaders argued in 2017, and still contend, that the narrative laid out by the Justice Department in its prosecution of Ms. Winner was shaped to make The Intercept — a thorn in the government’s side — look bad. And Ms. Winner’s own carelessness — she printed the document at work — could easily have gotten her caught even if The Intercept had been more cautious. But they also knew they had made real journalistic errors.

And so a key question was who to blame for this catastrophe and what consequences they should suffer. Ms. Dombek, who helped conduct the internal investigation, concluded that the editors — Ms. Reed and Mr. Hodge — needed to take responsibility. Others, including Mr. Greenwald, were demanding that Mr. Cole and Ms. Reed be fired, and The Intercept provide a public reckoning. (Mr. Greenwald later relented, and said he understood the desire not to “scapegoat” for an institutional failure.)

On July 11, 2017, Ms. Reed published a post on The Intercept announcing that First Look would pay for Ms. Winner’s legal defense. Ms. Reed also announced that an “internal review of the reporting of this story has now been completed.”

“We should have taken greater precautions to protect the identity of a source who was anonymous even to us,” she wrote. “As the editor in chief, I take responsibility for this failure, and for making sure that the internal newsroom issues that contributed to it are resolved.”

But the drama didn’t end there.

Mr. Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, an investigative reporter who is the third founder of The Intercept, demanded a more thorough investigation, and in response to their pressure, the company commissioned a second internal report, by a First Look lawyer, David Bralow. Mr. Bralow’s report, issued four months later, cited as central issues the decision to share the document with the N.S.A., Mr. Cole’s discussion of the postmark and the publication of the identifying markings.

“While each of these actions may or may not amount to an error in all cases, in this instance, these actions fell below The Intercept’s goals of protecting sources who seek to share information of significant public importance,” he wrote. “The procedures for authenticating leaked, classified documents reveal institutional weaknesses.”

Jeremy Scahill, right, an investigative reporter, with Glenn Greenwald in 2013. The two founded The Intercept with Ms. Poitras.
Jeremy Scahill, right, an investigative reporter, with Glenn Greenwald in 2013. The two founded The Intercept with Ms. Poitras.Credit…Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press

Ms. Winner was sentenced to five years and three months in federal prison in 2018, and The Intercept has covered her case regularly, always noting its own role — “an important part of accountability,” Ms. Reed said.

But there hasn’t been any further accounting. Neither internal report was shared with the public. Nobody at The Intercept was fired, demoted or even reassigned.

Ms. Reed and Mr. Bralow argued that any public reckoning could still expose other sources they spoke to about the document.

The story has clearly been a psychic blow to the idealism that marked the founding of The Intercept. The outlet has stepped back from its early ambitions. The archive of Snowden documents, which it received from Mr. Greenwald and Ms. Poitras on the condition that the company maintain a specific, complex security protocol and a staff to support it, was closed after Ms. Reed reduced its staff, citing budget cuts. Ms. Poitras, who furiously objected to the cuts at the time, called the move “staggering.”

The repository had been “the most significant historical archive documenting the rise of the surveillance state in the twenty first century,” Ms. Poitras wrote in a memo to The Intercept’s parent company. Closing it did a disservice to “the public for whom Edward Snowden blew the whistle.”


The Intercept never fully regained its swagger after the Reality Winner case, though it has continued to produce notable stories. It has broadened its original mandate to reporting on “civil liberties, social justice, the fight against corruption,” Ms. Reed said, and broken stories including revelations from the Snowden files of AT&T’s role in N.S.A. surveillance and an investigative profile by Mr. Cole of Erik Prince, the founder of the private security contractor Blackwater.

Nowadays, it seems more taken by politics, both in Brazil, where Mr. Greenwald lives, and in the United States, where it has become a hub for the fiery ideological battles playing out among the American left.

A leak to Mr. Greenwald last year showed how corruption investigations had been politicized in Brazil; the reporting reshaped the country’s politics. In the United States, Mr. Greenwald has been increasingly engaged in the bitter feuds with others on the left, charging that liberals — including some of his Intercept colleagues — have become fixated on identity politics and Russia, and ignored the more insidious workings of corporate power. His most memorable television appearances these days seem to be on Fox’s Tucker Carlson show, during which the two men denounce the so-called “deep state.”

Meanwhile, his colleagues have refashioned the site to champion insurgents and critics of the Democratic mainstream, including a woman who accused Joe Biden of sexual assault, Tara Reade, as mainstream outlets raised doubts about her story.

Mr. Greenwald has been increasingly engaged in the bitter feuds with others on the left.
Mr. Greenwald has been increasingly engaged in the bitter feuds with others on the left.Credit…Leo Correa/Associated Press
Mr. Greenwald has been increasingly engaged in the bitter feuds with others on the left.

The business conceived to underwrite the journalism at The Intercept — the for-profit moviemaking arm — has sputtered, too, failing to produce another hit since “Spotlight” in 2015. The documents I obtained show a bitter internal fight over leaders’ refusal to give a top female executive a producer credit. Another of its highest-profile hires, the former editor Anna Holmes, who left in 2019, told me: “I’ve always admired First Look Media’s stated commitment to free speech, transparency and speaking truth to power. So in that spirit I’ll say this: My tenure there was creatively rewarding — it was also personally and professionally demoralizing.”

Reality Winner, meanwhile, is recovering from the coronavirus in federal prison in Texas. She’s still short of breath sometimes, said her mother, who still blames The Intercept for the disastrous consequences of her daughter’s incautious effort to blow the whistle, though First Look is also paying the legal bills.

Ms. Winner-Davis recently abandoned her retirement to take a job as a corrections officer at a local jail so she could feel closer to her daughter, and understand her experience behind bars.

“It tears me apart every day going into that setting and knowing this is what my daughter is going through,” she said.

A correction was made on

Sept. 14, 2020

An earlier version of this column incorrectly described a copy of a document that an Intercept reporter sent to the National Security Agency for verification. The copy contained a crease, not markings showing where and when it had been printed. The column also mischaracterized demands for a more thorough investigation of The Intercept’s handling of the document. They were made privately, not publicly.

A correction was made on

Sept. 24, 2020

An earlier version of this article described imprecisely the internal investigation into the blunder.  While the inquiry was conducted by Lynn Dombek, who was then the director of research at The Intercept, it was done so in coordination with an outside law firm.

Reality Winner, a former intelligence analyst contracted by the NSA, posed for a portrait in the field behind her mother’s home where she is serving a home confinement sentencing by the federal courts in Kingsville, Texas on July 3, 2021. CHRISTOPHER LEE/REDUX

Bitter,’ ‘Angry,’ ‘Enraged’: Reality Winner Blasts the Intercept After 4 Years in Jail

After years locked away for leaking classified information on Russian interference, the former NSA contractor has a lot to say about how she got there

24 November 2021 |  TESSA STUART | Rolling Stone

ONE OF THE first things Reality Winner did when she was released from federal prison in June was start building a paddock for a horse named Trouble, and a small shed for her gym equipment beside it.

Winner, a former NSA contractor, was training for a powerlifting competition when she was arrested in June 2017, accused of leaking classified information to The Intercept. When the FBI showed up at her house that day, her main preoccupation was getting her perishable groceries into the fridge and figuring out who would feed her cat and foster dog if she came in for questioning. She hadn’t processed the fact that, not only would she miss the competition, she wouldn’t go home for years.

Inside the shed, where she spends most of her time these days, she’s got three hundred pounds of bumper plates, dumbbells, barbells, a kettlebell, pull-up bars, gymnastics rings, a nine-foot steel rig for doing squats and bench presses, a jump box, a rowing machine and stationary bike, all gifted by friends and supporters ahead of her release. Between reps, she’ll run out and give Trouble a scratch on his nose.

“I built my workout shed right by the side of his pasture, so he’s always creeping by,” Winner says. “It’s one of those moments where it’s, like, I’m doing deadlifts and petting my horse between sets? My life is perfect right now.”

‘Perfect’ is a relative term coming from someone who has spent the last four years in federal prison. For the next three years, Winner, who had her court-mandated ankle monitor removed on Tuesday, will still be on probation, which means mandatory drug tests every two weeks, a 10 p.m. curfew, and securing permission from her probation officer for any overnight trip she’d like to take. (Getting that permission is not a given, either — Winner’s P.O. already turned down her request to run a half marathon in San Antonio next month because it would mean traveling outside the federal district where her case is located.)

“It enrages me,” Winner says, comparing the terms of her parole to those of friends she made inside the system. One was serving time for a gun charge she got while trafficking drugs for an Aryan gang, the other did 11 years for armed robbery. “She’s not going to have these conditions,” Winner says. “He does overnight trips, he goes across state lines, he’s moved three times over the summer. He doesn’t have a curfew.”

Winner was just 25 years old when she printed a single classified document — one that described Russian military efforts to spear-phish dozens of local election officials ahead of the 2016 election — smuggled it out of the NSA facility where she worked and mailed it to The Intercept. (For comparison, Edward Snowden provided at least 10,000 documents to, among others, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, who later went on to co-found The Intercept. The NSA has claimed he took more than 1.7 million files.) Winner was ultimately sentenced to sixty-three months in prison for the leak, the longest prison term ever imposed for an unauthorized release of government information to the media.

The Intercept was widely criticized for its handling of the document Winner leaked—in particular, the decision to show the leaked document to the U.S. government. While attempting to verify its authenticity with the NSA, an Intercept reporter inadvertently revealed its provenance. According to an FBI affidavit, the document had a telltale crease in it, indicating it had been printed and folded. An FBI agent assigned to the case would later testify that a total of six people had printed the document. The pool of potential leakers was further narrowed to one — Winner — when investigators discovered she’d emailed The Intercept from her work computer. The Intercept would go on to conduct an internal review, which found that, in Winner’s case, its “practices fell short of the standards to which we hold ourselves” when it came to protecting sources. Poitras and Greenwald were both among those who were deeply critical of the Intercept’s conduct — Poitras later claimed she was fired by the media outlet’s parent company over that criticism. It’s a claim The Intercept strongly rejects, noting that she hadn’t been involved in the website in several years.

After her arrest, First Look Media, which owns The Interceptpledged to support Winner’s legal defense, but Winner says that support stopped shortly after her sentencing in August 2018. Nonetheless, she says, lawyers retained by First Look Media continued to advocate for her, even filing a petition for compassionate release “basically pro bono” after billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s nonprofit news outfit “fell behind” on payments to the firm. (Through a representative, Winner’s former lawyer, Joe Whitley, formerly of the firm Baker Donelson, declined to comment for this story.)

According to Winner, the last time she discussed the matter with her then-legal team, First Look owed the legal team “30 percent of the original agreed cost” of her legal defense. David Bralow, legal director of First Look Media’s Press Freedom Defense Fund, strongly disputed Winner’s characterization. “As is standard practice in legal cases, we negotiated a fee agreement with the lawyers representing Ms. Winner and fully satisfied that amount,” Bralow said, adding that between the fees paid to Baker Donelson, Winner’s original legal team in Georgia, and expert witnesses brought to testify at her trial, the organization spent more than $2 million dollars on Winner’s case — the most of any case they have provided support for. Bralow added the organization “remained involved” in Winner’s case after sentencing and “covered some expenses” related to post-conviction relief.

“I was angry at First Look Media. I was just angry at the whole system… Of course First Look Media fell behind. You know what I mean? They don’t have to pay anymore. No one wants to know about this,” Winner says of her case. She remembers telling her then-lawyers, “Just keep billing them every time you call… Just keep running up the tab. Fuck them. They’re going to pay eventually.”

In 2017, when Winner first came across the document on an internal NSA server, she chose to share it with The Intercept in large part because of her admiration for the disclosures Edward Snowden made with Greenwald and Poitras’ help, but also because of skepticism about Russia’s attempts to influence in the 2016 election.

Today, Winner is wary of what she sees as The Intercept’s contribution to an increasingly polarized media landscape. She has been especially stung by what she sees as Greenwald’s assertions that her own mistakes — including failing to follow guidelines for leakers outlined on The Intercept’s website, like specific advice not to contact the outlet either from work or by email — contributed to her arrest. (Greenwald, who was not involved in reporting the story, resigned from The Intercept in 2020, accusing the outlet of censoring an article critical of Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.)

Like Chelsea Manning, Winner says she’s been surprised by what she views as a cynical change in Greenwald’s public persona. Greenwald, she says, is “addicted to negative press…He’s willing to have whatever message is going to generate the most attention… Glenn isn’t the problem, he’s a symptom, and they’re all going to wind up like him.” (She adds: “If Glenn Greenwald has anything to say to me, he’s more than welcome to get his ass on a plane and come back to the United States and tell me face to my face how stupid he thinks I am, but he knows better than that. He wants to hide out in Brazil on his private beach or whatever.”)

Reached by email, Greenwald said, “The only point I ever made about Reality Winner is that even if The Intercept had acted responsibly, Reality Winner would have been caught anyway — not because she’s ‘stupid’ but because the US government has created such a pervasive surveillance system that it is very difficult for any inside source to evade detection if the government is determined to find them.” (He added: “I’m not ‘hiding out’ anywhere. I live in Brazil because my husband and children are Brazilian and at the time we married, Bill Clinton’s Defense of Marriage Act prevented us from getting immigration rights to live in the US. I’m in the US frequently.”)

Greenwald, Winner says, “used to represent integrity in journalism, and a lot of The Intercept people used to.” After her experience these last four years, she is much more cynical about both, particularly the outlet she leaked to.

“I wasn’t the first source that they burned and I definitely wasn’t the last — two other people have done prison time [due to] them being extremely sloppy,” Winner says, referring to Daniel Hale, sentenced to 45 months in prison earlier this year after he pled guilty to leaking documents about the U.S. military’s drone program, and Terry Albury, sentenced in 2018 to four years in prison after leaking documents concerning the bureau’s use of informants. “Every time one of their sources goes to prison, that’s another headline for them. That’s how they stay relevant — by burning sources, instead of the journalism that they once believed in.”

In a statement, Betsy Reed, editor in chief of The Intercept, said, “As we’ve acknowledged before, in preparing the story on Russian election interference in 2017, we made errors in the course of verifying a document that came to us anonymously. We honor her courage and feel awful about what she went through… We have learned from Reality’s case and we work hard to minimize the risks whistleblowers face.” Separately, Reed said she wasn’t aware of any evidence that The Intercept had made missteps in its reporting in either Hale or Albury’s cases.

Reflecting on her own situation, Winner says, “They made a huge mistake with me, and not just because I went to prison. I knew what I was doing, I faced the consequences. That’s fine. It’s their attitude towards it. It’s the sloppiness… I have a lot of bitterness in my heart towards them.”

Over her four years in prison, Winner says she was abused by a female prison guard, developed and kicked a drug habit, and contracted and recovered from a case Covid-19. The night she was finally released, she couldn’t sleep. ”It was the first time in four years that I have been in a room by myself at night, or been in a room that got dark at night.” Instead, she stayed up on the phone with her high school boyfriend, just listening to him play video games. “I just couldn’t handle being alone,” she says.

For now, Winner is more focused on rebuilding her life than reliving the past six years. She hasn’t watched the documentary about herself or accepted invitations to see the Broadway show that was made out of the transcript of her FBI interrogation. Her sister and lawyer were on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee earlier this year. She tried to watch, but she says, “I had a physical reaction to it — I started shaking really bad. Whenever I see a news clip about me or read something about me in the third person, I still have a really, really traumatic response to it.”

Instead, Winner is taking comfort in the relative anonymity of life in Kingsville, the tiny South Texas town where she grew up​. “No one in my hometown recognizes me,” she says. There are a few exceptions — the father of a high school classmate (“He knew my story — he was thankful for the political shit or whatever”), and a neighbor who recently dropped off a bale of hay as a “thank you” for everything she did.

There’s a little bit of support, but it’s just another example of how Twitter bubbles are not real,” Winner says. In Kingsville, “I can walk around and be completely anonymous.” When she spoke to Rolling Stone last week, Winner said she was hoping, once her ankle monitor was removed, to apply for a job at a CrossFit gym in town. “They are looking for a coach,” she says. She hasn’t told them about her past, and if they recognized her name they didn’t comment on it. “I didn’t want to be like, “Oh yeah, I’m a felon on an ankle monitor,” she says. Instead, she told them: “I’ll be in town next week and I’ll be able to stop by and just see if I’m going to be a good fit for the gym.”

UPDATE 3:39 PM: This story has been updated to note that The Intercept disputes Poitras’ claim that she had been fired and to remove an erroneous reference about Winner requesting the transcript of a podcast about Russian interference.

Reality Winner says she leaked file on Russia election hacking because ‘public was being lied to’

Reality Winner in 2010 while in the Air Force Photograph: US Government

25 July 2022 | Ramon Antonio Vargas | The Guardian

A former intelligence contractor who was imprisoned for leaking a report about Russian interference in the US presidential election that Donald Trump won in 2016 has insisted she acted out of love for a nation that was “being lied to”.

“I am not a traitor – I am not a spy,” Reality Winner said in an interview aired Sunday on CBS’ 60 Minutes. “I am somebody who only acted out of love for what this country stands for.”

In some of her most extensive remarks about her case since she was freed from prison last year for good behavior, Winner portrayed herself living as normal a life as possible in Texas, teaching yoga and fitness while also being a pet owner, daughter and sister named after a pun of her family’s surname and her father’s wish to have a “real winner”.

The 30-year-old also gave perhaps the most detailed account yet about the day she decided to leave her National Security Agency contractor’s office at the Fort Gordon army base in Georgia with an intelligence report about Russian attempts to meddle in the election that saw Trump beat Hillary Clinton for the White House.

Working for NSA contractor Pluribus International Corporation, Winner printed the document – labeled “TOP SECRET” – that explained how Russian military intelligence officials hacked at least one supplier of voting software and tried to break into more than 100 local election systems before the polls closed in 2016.

She tucked the report into the pantyhose underneath her dress and walked out of her office at the Fort Gordon army base in Georgia before the document became the basis of an article published on the Intercept news site.

Federal authorities announced that Winner had been arrested about an hour after that article came out. The Trump administration had her charged under the Espionage Act, which was initially created during the first world war as a means to punish people spying on the US during times of foreign conflict.

Winner pleaded guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors that called for her to be sentenced to five years in prison beginning in 2018. Authorities said the sentence was the longest ever handed down by a US federal court to someone convicted of providing government information to the media without permission.

She earned the right to an early release in June of 2021.

In Sunday’s interview, Winner said she broke her oath to protect classified material because Americans were being intentionally deceived about Russia’s efforts to sow chaos in the presidential election that vaulted Trump into the Oval Office. Winner hoped the report would end what some purported was confusion over whether or not Russia had meddled in the race that Clinton lost.

“The truth wasn’t true any more,” said Winner, who also served in the US air force between 2010 and 2016. “The public was being lied to.”

Winner said the leak “did not betray” the country’s “sources and methods” for obtaining sensitive intelligence.

“I knew it was secret,” Winner added. “But I also knew that I had pledged service to the American people. And at that point in time, it felt like they were being led astray.”

Her attorney, Alison Grinter Allen, also spoke to 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley.

Allen told Pelley that her client indeed broke the law but argued that Winner’s prosecution – the first of its kind during the Trump presidency – was little more than political retribution. The lawyer also said that she would help Winner pursue a pardon because her receiving one would be “the right thing for the country”.

Winner said her imprisonment was grueling, occurring during coronavirus lockdowns and the worldwide protests ignited by the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. She said she contemplated dying by suicide and stopped those thoughts solely because of her loved ones, particularly her mother, and that she’s tried to “have a sense of accomplishment in having survived prison”.

“I try so hard not to frame things as being worth it or not worth it,” Winner said. “What I know is that I’m home with my parents. And we take our lives every day moving forward as being richer in knowing what to be grateful for.”

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