An Air Force veteran and former NSA contractor has pleaded guilty to leaking classified information and now faces up to 63 months in federal prison, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Reality Winner, 26, admitted to violating the Espionage Act by smuggling classified documents out of her company’s office in her pantyhose and then leaking them to a media outlet, The Intercept. Winner entered her guilty plea to the felony charge on June 26 and will be sentenced at a later date.
The Intercept published a report based on the classified documents saying that Russian military intelligence sent phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials and launched a cyberattack against a Florida-based voting software supplier that operates in eight states. Winner’s attorneys had attempted to argue that the leak of the document did not put national security at stake, but the World War I-era Espionage Act does not have exemptions for leaks done in the public interest or leaks that do not cause damage to national security.
The agreement calls for her to be sentenced to five years and three months in prison, but a federal judge will still have to accept that sentence, according to court documents. The charge she pleaded guilty to carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. The plea deal also calls for three years of supervised release. Winner has been held at a county jail in Georgia since her arrest in June 2017.
“All of these actions I did willfully, meaning I did them of my own free will,” Winner told the court during her change of plea hearing, according to the Journal-Constitution. Winner also told the court that she has been depressed and her overall health has suffered while in jail awaiting trial, which was set to begin in October.
“They’re just coming down on her so tough,” Billie Winner-Davis, Winner’s mother, told the New York Times after her daughter admitted wrongdoing. “I can only think that it’s because she was the very first one: the one they wanted to make an example out of, the one they wanted to nail to the door as a message to others. … She wouldn’t have made this decision if she wasn’t ready to accept the consequences and to accept responsibility.”
Winner-Davis added, “She said she wants the world to know that she does love her country, and she is a patriot. I don’t want her to go down in history as a traitor to her country.”
A sentencing date has not been set. In federal cases, the judge decides a sentence based on sentencing guidelines and recommendations from the pretrial services/probation department, prosecutors and defense attorneys. Prosecutors and Winner’s defense team will both file memos asking for a specific sentence for Winner, and the judge will use those to help make his decision, along with the evaluation of the probation department. Her defense attorneys could argue for a lesser sentence.
Winner, a Texas native, was a linguist in the Air Force, speaking Pashto, Farsi and Dari, and was honorably discharged in 2016. She then began working for Pluribus International Corporation, a Virginia-based company that contracts with the National Security Agency. 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.
She joined the Air Force in 2011 after graduating from high school and was deployed overseas as part of the 94th Intelligence Squadron, 707th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing. She received a commendation medal when she was discharged. “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,” the Air Force said. “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.”