• Reality Winner receives record-setting prison sentence in NSA leak case

    By: Jeremy Redmon, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Updated:
    AUGUSTA, Ga. -

    Reality Winner was sentenced Thursday to more than five years in prison after she pleaded guilty in June to leaking a top-secret government report about Russian meddling in the 2016 election, according to reports.

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    Update 11:55 a.m. EDT Aug. 23: “I sincerely apologize and take full responsibility for my actions,” the former National Security Agency contractor told Chief U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall in a federal court in Augusta. “In particular, I want to apologize to my family.” 

    Winner faced up to 10 years in prison for her crime. But her plea deal with prosecutors called for her to serve five years and three months behind bars. That is longer than anyone else has been sentenced for an “unauthorized disclosure to the media,” federal prosecutors said in a court filing this month. Both Winner’s attorneys and the prosecutors urged Hall to agree to the sentence spelled out in her plea deal. 

    “The government advises the court that despite the agreed-upon sentence being below the applicable guidelines range, it would be the longest sentence served by a federal defendant for an unauthorized disclosure to the media,” the prosecutors said in their court filing. 

    The prosecutors added avoiding a trial would prevent them from having to reveal sensitive government information in court. 

    “The agreement reflects a fair resolution of the defendant’s criminal culpability, especially when balanced against the further harm to the national security that would likely result from a trial,” the prosecutors said. 

    The prosecutors also cited several other similar federal cases in which defendants received shorter prison sentences. In 2013, former FBI bomb technician Donald Sachtleben was sentenced to 43 months in prison for leaking classified information to the Associated Press about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen. That same year, former CIA officer John Kiriakou was given a 30-month sentence for revealing to a freelance journalist the identity of an undercover CIA agent. Two years later, former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling got a 42-month sentence for leaking to The New York Times classified information about a secret operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. 

    Winner, 26, the prosecutors said, harmed national security last year when she mailed a copy of a NSA document to The Intercept, an online publication. The Intercept published an article based on the report, saying Russian military intelligence sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials and launched a cyberattack against a Florida-based voting software supplier that contracts in eight states. 

    Last week, Winner’s attorneys filed court papers in support of having her detained at the Federal Medical Center Carswell near Fort Worth, Texas. That would place her nearer to her family in Kingsville, Texas, and allow her to get help with her bulimia, an eating disorder. Joel Sickler, a criminologist working with Winner’s attorneys, noted Winner is a U.S. Air Force veteran with no other criminal convictions. She has already spent more than a year behind bars at the Lincoln County Jail outside of Augusta. 

    “In my opinion,” Sickler wrote, “it would be extremely helpful for Ms. Winner if she were designated to a facility close to her family in Texas, as it would assist with her adjustment to the conditions of confinement, and later, it would be beneficial as she transitions to pre-release at a halfway house.”

    Update 11:30 a.m. EDT Aug. 23: The Associated Press reported Thursday that Winner was sentenced to more than five years in prison.

    Original report: Court records showed Winner could have received a record-setting prison term.

    The former National Security Agency contractor faces up to 10 years in prison. But her plea deal with prosecutors calls for her to serve five years and three months behind bars. That is longer than anyone else has been sentenced for an “unauthorized disclosure to the media,” federal prosecutors said in a court filing this month.

    The prosecutors are urging Chief U.S. District Judge J. Randal Hall to agree to the sentence spelled out in Winner’s plea deal. If the judge instead moves to give her a longer sentence, Winner, 26, could withdraw her guilty plea and go to trial.

    “The government advises the court that despite the agreed-upon sentence being below the applicable guidelines range, it would be the longest sentence served by a federal defendant for an unauthorized disclosure to the media,” the prosecutors said in their court filing.

    The prosecutors also said that avoiding a trial would prevent them from having to reveal sensitive government information in court.

    “The agreement reflects a fair resolution of the defendant’s criminal culpability, especially when balanced against the further harm to the national security that would likely result from a trial,” the prosecutors said.

    Prosecutors also cited several other similar federal cases in which defendants received shorter prison sentences. In 2013, former FBI bomb technician Donald Sachtleben was sentenced to 43 months in prison for leaking classified information to The Associated Press about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen. That same year, former CIA officer John Kiriakou was given a 30-month sentence for revealing to a freelance journalist the identity of an undercover CIA agent. Two years later, former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling got a 42-month sentence for leaking to The New York Times classified information about a secret operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

    Winner, the prosecutors said, harmed national security last year when she mailed a copy of a National Security Agency document to The Intercept, an online publication. The Intercept published an article based on the report, saying Russian military intelligence sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials and launched a cyberattack against a Florida-based voting software supplier with contracts in eight states.

    Last week, Winner’s attorneys filed court papers in support of having her detained at the Federal Medical Center Carswell near Fort Worth, Texas. That would place her nearer to her family in Kingsville, Texas, and allow her to get help with her bulimia, an eating disorder. Joel Sickler, a criminologist working with Winner’s attorneys, noted Winner is a U.S. Air Force veteran with no other criminal convictions. She has already spent more than a year behind bars at the Lincoln County Jail outside Augusta.

    “In my opinion,” Sickler wrote, “it would be extremely helpful for Ms. Winner if she were designated to a facility close to her family in Texas, as it would assist with her adjustment to the conditions of confinement, and later, it would be beneficial as she transitions to pre-release at a halfway house.”

    The Cox Media Group National Content Desk contributed to this report.

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