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Jailed NSA leaker, former airman from Fort Gordon seeks early prison release

Reality Winner, who pleaded guilty in June to leaking top-secret government documents about Russian meddling in the 2016 election, arrives at the federal courthouse where she was sentenced in a federal court on Aug. 23, 2018 in Augusta, Ga. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

A former NSA contractor at Fort Gordon who is serving a 63-month prison term for leaking a classified document has asked the judge who sentenced her for a compassionate release from prison because of coronavirus health concerns.

Reality Winner, 28, was sentenced Aug. 23, 2018, by U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Randal Hall for violating the Espionage Act.

In May 2017 Winner mailed a single classified document, an analysis of Russian operatives attempt to affect the 2016 presidential election, to the online news outfit The Intercept. She accessed the document while working at Pluribus International at Fort Gordon. She was arrested June 3, 2017, by federal agents who met Winner at her small Battle Row rental home as she returned from shopping for groceries.

Winner was the first person prosecuted for leaking classified information under the Trump Administration.

In a motion filed Friday in federal court in Augusta, defense attorney Joe Whitley asked the judge to use his authority under the federal sentencing reform law of 2019, First Step Act, to release Winner to home confinement.

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Whitley asked Hall to consider the required “extraordinary and compelling reasons” the unprecedented COVID-18 pandemic presents and Winner’s underlying health conditions that puts her in a high risk category if infected.

Calling the conditions of prison a petri dish for the novel coronavirus with no way to practice social distancing, wear a mask or self-isolate, Whitely wrote that the federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, where Winner is imprisoned, FMC Carswell, has run out of hand sanitizer.

Winner is especially at risk if infected because she has a history of respiratory illnesses, and an eating disorder that can leave those afflicted with a compromised immune system, Winner’s attorney wrote.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prison, as of Monday, 388 inmates and 201 staff members have been infected. Thirteen inmates have died.

Two inmates at Winner’s prison have tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Bureau of Prison.

Winner had only been on the job as a National Security Agency contractor for three months when she smuggled out the classified document. She had top-security clearance through her service in the Air Force.

She served six years and was trained as a cryptologist and a linguist fluent in Dari, Farsi and Pashto. The Texas native had no prior criminal record.

If not granted a compassionate release, Winner will be in prison until Nov. 23, 2021.

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© 2020 The Augusta Chronicle