A 25-year-old federal contract worker in Georgia is facing a federal charge for leaking classified materials to the media, the Department of Justice says.
Reality Leigh Winner, of Augusta, was arrested by the FBI on June 3 and appeared in federal court on June 8, where she was indicted by a grand jury on the charge of willful retention and transmission of national defense information.
If convicted of the charge, Winner faces up to 10 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release.
Read the full indictment, obtained by Heavy, in the document below:
At her first hearing, Winner’s attorney Titus Thomas Nichols made a motion for transcripts of the Grand Jury testimony to be disclosed. Media accounts say that testimony involves Winner “praising the Taliban” and saying she wanted to “burn the White House down.”
She pleaded not guilty to the lone charge and had hoped to be released on bond. However, the judge issued her no bond and ordered her back to prison because of how much classified information she may know.
Winner allegedly took a Top Secret National Security Agency document, copied it and mailed it to a news organization believed to be The Intercept, NBC News reported, though the organization was not named in the federal court documents.
The Intercept published an intelligence document on June 5, and it described details about Russian efforts to hack voting systems in the U.S. about one week before the 2016 presidential election.
The Intercept released a statement on the matter June 6, saying the publication had “no knowledge of the identity of the person who provided the document.” Click here to read The Intercept’s full statement.
Here’s what you need to know about Winner:
1. Winner Served in the Air Force & Received a Military Commendation Last Year
Winner was an employee at Pluribus International Corporation based out of Alexandria, Virginia when she allegedly compromised the government document. She was then assigned to a government agency in Georgia, where she was an employee since February 13 and held a Top Secret security clearance.
Pluribus is an analytical and engineering service that provides its services to federal, defense, security and the intelligence community on a contractual basis. The company has 22 locations across the world, including three in the Republic of Korea. The one located in Georgia is in Fort Gordon.
Prior to working for Pluribus, Winner was an active duty member of the U.S. Air Force. She was in the Air Force as a linguist, and speaks Pashto, Farsi and Dari, her mother Billie Winner-Davis told The Guardian’s Jon Swaine.
According to a report from The Kingsville Record and Bishop News, Winner completed basic training in 2011.
According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Winner once received a military commendation for assisting in airstrikes that killed hundreds of enemies.
Winner served with the 94th Intelligence Squadron, 707th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing in Maryland, the newspaper reported.
Her parents said that she was never deployed overseas when she served in the Air Force, but she received a commendation medal from the Air Force in October 2016. She was discharged in December.
The award’s description says that its recipient provides almost 2,000 hours of enemy ilntelligence exploitation, among other things.
“Airman Winner provided over 1,900 hours of enemy intelligence exploitation and assisted in geolocating 120 enemy combatants during 734 airborne sorties. She facilitated 816 intelligence missions, 3,236 time sensitive reports, and removing more than 100 enemies from the battlefield.
Furthermore, while deployed to support Combatant Commander’s requirements, Airman Winner was appointed as the lead deployment language analyst, producing 2,500 reports, aiding in 650 enemy captures, 600 enemies killed in action and identifying 900 high value targets.
2. A Search Warrant Said the FBI Was Tipped off by Her Email Exchange With a Podcast
According to a search warrant obtained by Heavy, a special agent with the FBI received information that Winner possessed and willfully sent classified information that was believed to result in damage to national security. The agency received the tip from the news outlet that received the document on May 30, saying that it may have received and classified information. The court document said that the reporting was dated by the NSA as May 5.
After launching an investigation, they found that Winner was one of six people who had access to the document in question on her computer since it was published internally. When investigating those six people, authorities found out that Winner had email contact with the news outlet on March 30 and then again March 31 from her personal GMail account.
In that email, Winner had asked for transcripts of a specific podcast, and a second email confirmed that she had subscribed to the podcast. She allegedly “printed, improperly removed and transmitted classified information from a defense agency of the U.S. government.”
After she printed the information, she mailed the document to the outlet, and the letter was postmarked with Augusta, Georgia, the criminal complaint said.
Read the full 21-page search warrant request below:
The search warrant was eventually granted, and authorities targeted her home and her vehicle, where they suspected that evidence of the alleged crime was.
3. Winner Admitted to Sharing the Classified Information to Authorities During an Interview
According to the criminal complaint, the FBI executed its search warrant on Winner’s home and vehicle and found evidence that she had shared the classified information with the news outlet.
Read the full 6-page criminal complaint in the document below:
Authorities arrested her June 3 at her home, and she was subsequently interviewed by investigators. Winner admitted to removing the classified intelligence reporting from her office in Georgia, copying it and mailing it to the news outlet. She allegedly told agents that she knew that she wasn’t allowed to share the intelligence reporting that she obtained, and she was aware that using the information for a news report could cause damage to the U.S. by a foreign nation.
Winner was then taken into federal custody, where she remains as she awaits trial.
4. She Could Be Sentenced to Up to 10 Years in Federal Prison if Found Guilty
Winner is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but faces 10 years in a federal prison if convicted of the charge.
The charge, “gathering, transmitting or losing defense information,” is contained under Chapter 37 of federal law: Espionage and Censorship. The law went into effect as of February 1, 2010.
The prosecution of Winner is being handled by Julie A. Edelstein of the Department of Justice’s National Security Divisions Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, a news release by the agency said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Solari of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia is also on the case.
5. Winner, a Texas Native, Posted Anti-Trump Messages to Social Media
Winner doesn’t have a past criminal record, and her Facebook profile said that she was born in Kingsville, Texas. She went to H.M. King High School in Texas and has also lived in Columbia, Maryland, according to her Facebook page. She joined the Air Force shortly after graduating from high school in 2010, according to her Facebook page. She did not attend college. Her mother told the Guardian her daughter was bright academically and excelled in athletics “but she had gotten a little tired of school.”
Her mother told The Daily Beast that she became aware of the allegations June 4 when they spoke, but she wasn’t quite aware what they were.
“I don’t know who she might have sent it to,” she told the news outlet. “(DOJ) were very vague. They said she mishandled and released documents that she shouldn’t have, but we had no idea what it pertained to or who.”
One of the main thing on her daughter’s mind when she spoke with her was the condition of her dog and cat. She reportedly asked her mom to “help out with relocating” the pets.
Winner’s social media accounts show that she’s a vegan, an athlete and remains enjoys staying active and in shape. She recently took a trip to Belize, which is mentioned in court documents.
Old prep sports reports from The Kingsville Record and Bishop News show that Winner played tennis during high school.
Notably, Winner didn’t shy away from giving her take on politics. Just one day before the 2016 presidential election, she made a post to Facebook saying: “On a positive note, This Tuesday when we become the United States of the Russian Federation, Olympic lifting will be the national sport.”
“I never thought this would be something she would do,” her mother, Billie Winner-Davis told the Guardian. “I mean, she has expressed to me that she is not a fan of Trump – but she’s not someone who would go and riot or picket.”
It also appeared as if Winner created a Twitter account under the handle “Sara Winners” to comment on a slew of political things, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline and politics.
To view more of Winner’s posts to social media, click here.
Her mother told The Daily Beast that Reality is “very passionate about her views.” But she said that she’s “never to my knowledge been active in politics or any of that.”