Reality Winner, a 25-year old Georgia woman accused of leaking classified information, pleaded not guilty in a hearing on Thursday. The federal judge chose to deny Winner bail, citing disturbing notes Winner left in a notebook and the possibility that Winner may hold more classified information.
The Washington Post reported that after Reality Winner was arrested last Saturday, Reality was formally charged with gathering, transmitting, or losing defense information. This is a felony offense which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Winner said little throughout the hearing beyond entering her plea.
Federal authorities are connecting Reality Winner to a report released by the Intercept on Monday, which showed that Russian military intelligence used cyberwarfare to execute an attack U.S. election officials and at least one voting software supplier. The report concludes that these hacking attacks and others were directly ordered by the Russian government and was not the product of freelance individuals as both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump alleged. The Intercept has said that they do not know whether Winner was the leaker or not and notes that the allegations about her remain unproven.
Winner’s relatives pleaded for bond, stating that she has no prior record of convictions or violence. But investigators found a notebook by Reality Winner where she said that she wished “to burn the White House down” and flee to Kurdistan.
Reality had served in the Air Force as a linguist where she spoke Arabic and Farsi and served alongside Afghans. Before her arrest, she had been working as a government contractor at a National Security Agency center in Georgia. She taught yoga, loved cats, and lived in a rented house in Augusta.
A War on Leakers
Winner’s case is particularly significant as she is the first individual to be charged by the Trump administration with carrying out leaks. President Trump has long raged about leakers who he says threaten his administration, and responded on Twitter to James Comey’s Thursday testimony by calling the former FBI director a leaker.
Reality Winner is the first leaker caught by the Trump administration, but she is not the leaker in the federal government and underscores how difficult tamping down leaks can be. Winner displayed far-left views in the months before the leaks as she showed support for Black Lives Matter and was a fan of Bernie Sanders. Yet, while some individuals have wondered how she managed to get a security clearance, it would establish a troubling precedent if individuals were accepted or not based on whether they agreed with the President.
This leaker’s political views underscore the fact that there are many individuals within the government apparatus who heavily oppose Trump and would be willing to leak information depending on the circumstances. And any other leaker will be harder to catch than Winner.
In fact, the details surrounding how investigators found Winner revealed a level of rank amateurism on her part. Reality Winner printed out the documents showing the allegations about Russia, photographed them, and then used her work email to contact the Intercept and later send the relevant files to them. When the Intercept contacted government authorities with the documents asking for a comment, the authorities noticed a crease which indicated that the document had been printed. By checking who had printed the document, they fingered Winner after checking her email and arrested her before the Intercept even published their report.
Winner’s swift arrest and punishment could act as a deterrent to other potential leakers by showing how authorities could track them down. But it also shows how leakers can exist at every level of the federal government and the challenges which the Trump administration faces in keeping information secure.
[Featured Image By Handout/AP Images]