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Air Force vet Reality Winner says she leaked classified info as ‘service’ to American people

Reality Winner, who leaked top-secret government documents, at a federal courthouse on Aug. 23, 2018 in Augusta, Ga. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
December 03, 2021

Reality Winner, the U.S. Air Force veteran-turned National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified documents to the media, said this week she divulged those secret documents in service to the American public.

Winner was arrested in June 2017 after she sent a top-secret NSA report about Russian government hacking of the 2016 election to The Intercept. Winner was prosecuted under the Espionage Act and she pleaded guilty to the charges in 2018.

In her first television interview after more than four years behind bars, Winner told Scott Pelley of CBS’s “60 Minutes” program, she “acted out of love for what this country stands for.” A preview of the interview was released Friday, and the full interview is set to air on Sunday.

“You knew it was stamped ‘Top Secret.’ You knew what that meant,” Pelley said to Winner at one point in the interview.

“I knew that. I knew it was secret,” Winner replied, “But I also knew that I had pledged service to the American people. And at that point in time, it felt like they were being led astray.”

Billie Winner-Davis, her mother, also spoke with “60 Minutes” and said she is proud of her daughter: “She actually stood up and worked for the American people to give us the truth about an attack on our vote, an attack on our democracy, an attack on our country.”

According to The Intercept, the documents Winner leaked indicated Russian hackers accessed voter registration rolls in the U.S., though there were no indications of any vote totals being changed.

Before working for the NSA, Winner had served in the Air Force for six years as a cryptologic linguist with the 94th Intelligence Squadron, where she listened to intercepted foreign chatter to identify enemy combatants and targets. Winner even received an Air Force Commendation Medal, with a citation crediting her with “producing 2,500 reports, aiding in 650 enemy captures, 600 enemies killed in action and identifying 900 high value targets,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Winner was also reportedly a Bernie Sanders supporter, who often criticized President Trump and shared support for Black Lives Matter. On her Twitter account, @Reezlie, Winner went after Trump over his stance on refugees, said to “burn crosses, not flags,” and tweeted at rap star Kanye West that he should “make a shirt that says, ‘being white is terrorism.’”

Bloomberg reported federal agents who searched Winner’s home also found a diary in which she allegedly expressed support for Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden, and proclaimed she wanted to burn down the White House.

Winner was among the first leakers punished during President Donald Trump’s presidency.

Trump did not commute Winner’s sentence while he was in office, but NBC reported in 2018 he said her punishment was “so unfair” and tweeted “Gee, this is ‘small potatoes’ compared to what Hillary Clinton did,” in reference to Clinton’s handling of classified materials on a home email server.

Winner was released from federal prison in June of this year. Though she was sentenced to five years in prison, she earned an early release for good behavior.