Reality Winner

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Reality Winner
Reality Leigh Winner

(1991-12-04) December 4, 1991 (age 27)
ResidenceAugusta, Georgia
OccupationIntelligence specialist
Years active4 to 6 months
EmployerPluribus International Corporation
Known forLeaking an intelligence report detailing Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections to The Intercept
Home townKingsville, Texas[2]
Criminal charge18 U.S. Code § 793(e) – Gathering, transmitting or losing national defense information[3]
Criminal penaltyFive years and three months in prison
Criminal statusPleaded guilty
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service2010–2016[4]
RankE4 USAF SAM.svg Senior airman (E-4)[4]
Unit94th Intelligence Squadron[4]
AwardsAir Force Commendation Medal

Reality Leigh Winner (born December 4, 1991)[5] is a former American intelligence specialist. In 2017, she was charged with "removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet." The material in question originated with the National Security Agency (NSA).[6]

On June 3, 2017, while employed by the military contractor Pluribus International Corporation, Winner was arrested on suspicion of leaking an intelligence report about Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections to the news website The Intercept. The report suggested that Russian hackers had accessed at least one U.S. voting-software supplier.[7] Twice denied bail, Winner was held at the Lincoln County Jail in Lincolnton, Georgia.[8][9] On August 23, 2018, Winner was sentenced to five years and three months in prison as part of a plea deal.[10]

Early life and education[edit]

Winner grew up in Kingsville, Texas and was a 2010 graduate of H. M. King High School, where she learned Arabic and played on the soccer and tennis teams.[11]


Winner served in the United States Air Force from 2010 to 2016, achieving the rank of senior airman (an E-4 paygrade) with the 94th Intelligence Squadron.[12][4] After two years of language and intelligence training, she was posted to Fort Meade, Maryland.[13] She worked as a cryptologic linguist, being fluent in the Persian language and in Dari, the Persian dialect spoken in Afghanistan, as well as in Pashto.[14] Assigned to the drone program,[13] she listened in on intercepted foreign chatter to provide U.S. forces with intelligence.[15] Winner was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal for "aiding in 650 enemy captures, 600 enemies killed in action and identifying 900 high[-]value targets."[16]

A month after being honorably discharged from the Air Force in November 2016, Winner moved to Augusta, Georgia, where she taught at CrossFit and at a yoga studio.[13] Still possessing a top-secret security clearance,[13] Winner was then hired by Pluribus International Corporation, a small firm[13] that provides services under contract to the National Security Agency.[17][18][19][20] On February 13, 2017, Pluribus assigned her to work at Fort Gordon,[21] a U.S. Army post near Augusta, where she had once been stationed while in the Air Force.[13] Assigned to translate documents relating to Iran's aerospace program from Persian,[13] Winner was employed by Pluribus at the time of her arrest for unauthorized disclosure of classified documents.[22]

On February 11, 2017, just two days before she began employment as an NSA contractor, she wrote on her Twitter account that "the most dangerous entry to this country was the orange fascist we let into the White House".[23] She described President Donald Trump as "a soulless ginger orangutan" on her Facebook page.[24][25] Prior to the 2016 presidential election, she posted: "On a positive note, this Tuesday when we become the United States of the Russian Federation, Olympic lifting will be the national sport."[26]

Federal agents found her diary during a search of her home, in which she allegedly expressed support for Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden.[27] The U.S. magistrate judge who presided over Winner's bail hearing said: "She seems to have a fascination with the Middle East and Islamic terrorism," and quoted her writing: "It's a Christlike vision to have a fundamentalist Islamic state."[27] However, one of the prosecutors at her bail hearing said: "The government is not in any way suggesting the defendant has become a jihadist or that she is a Taliban sympathizer."[28]

Intelligence report leak, arrest and sentencing[edit]

Winner was arrested on June 3, 2017. The U.S. Department of Justice announced her arrest on June 5,[29] shortly after The Intercept published an article describing Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election by hacking a U.S. voting software supplier and sending spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before the November 8 election. The Intercept's story was based on a top-secret May 5, 2017, National Security Agency (NSA) document leaked to them anonymously.[30]

The Intercept had contacted the NSA on May 30 and sent copies of the documents in order to confirm their veracity. The NSA notified the FBI of the situation on June 1. According to media coverage published in VICE, an official report from the FBI noted the documents "appeared to be folded and/or creased, suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space."[31] Next, the NSA did an internal audit, confirming that Winner was one of six workers who had accessed the particular documents on its classified system, but only Winner's computer had been in contact with The Intercept using a personal email account. On June 3, the FBI obtained a warrant to search Winner's electronic devices, and she was arrested.[27] Both journalists and security experts have suggested that The Intercept's handling of the reporting, which included publishing the documents unredacted and including the printer tracking dots, was used to identify Winner as the leaker.[32][33]

In an 'Affidavit in Support of Application for Arrest Warrant' dated July 5, 2017, FBI Special Agent Justin C. Garrick stated:

On June 3, 2017, your affiant spoke to WINNER at her home in Augusta, Georgia. During that conversation, WINNER admitted intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue despite not having a "need to know," and with knowledge that the intelligence reporting was classified. WINNER further admitted removing the classified intelligence reporting from her office space, retaining it, and mailing it from Augusta, Georgia, to the News Outlet, which she knew was not authorized to receive or possess the documents.

WINNER further acknowledged that she was aware of the contents of the intelligence reporting and that she knew the contents of the reporting could be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign nation.


Your affiant submits that the facts set forth in this affidavit establish probable cause to believe WINNER committed a violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 793(e). Therefore, your affiant respectfully requests this Court issue an arrest warrant for WINNER.[34]

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, called on the public to support Winner,[26] offering a $10,000 reward for information about a reporter for The Intercept who had allegedly helped the U.S. government identify Winner as the leaker.[35] Assange wrote on Twitter that "Winner is no Clapper or Petraeus with 'elite immunity'. She's a young woman against the wall for talking to the press."[36]

Winner was charged with "removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet."[34] On June 8, 2017, she pleaded not guilty to a charge of "willful retention and transmission of national defense information", and was denied bail. Prosecutors alleged she may have been involved in other leaks of classified information, and might try to flee the country if released.[27][37] The U.S. Justice Department lawyers also argued that her defense team should not be allowed to discuss any classified information, even if it was in news reports published by the media.[38][39]

On August 29, 2017, Winner's attorneys filed a motion in U.S. District Court to suppress her statements to law enforcement, arguing that Winner was not read her "Miranda" rights before being interrogated by the FBI on June 3.[40] On October 5, 2017, Judge Brian Epps denied a second request from her defense attorneys that bail be set.[41] In December 2017, The Intercept reported that Winner's defense team was allowed to discuss the case with her, including its classified aspects, in a "Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility"(SCIF).[42] First Look, the parent company of The Intercept, helped fund her defense.[43]

On January 31, 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a lower court order blocking Winner from posting bond, determining that no combination of conditions would reasonably assure her presence at trial, thus ensuring that she remains in jail until her trial,[44] which was scheduled to begin on October 15, 2018.[45]

A "Stand with Reality" campaign was formed by representatives from Courage to Resist, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Freedom of the Press Foundation with the goal of "raising public awareness" to ensure that Reality Winner receives a fair trial.[46] Billie Winner-Davis, mother of Reality Winner, called on members of the public to join this campaign.[47]

On June 21, 2018, Winner asked the court to allow her to change her plea to guilty[48] and on June 26 she pleaded guilty to one count of felony transmission of national defense information.[49][50] Winner's plea agreement with prosecutors called for her to serve five years and three months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.[51]

On August 23, 2018, at a federal court in Georgia, Winner was sentenced to the agreed-upon five years and three months in prison for violating the Espionage Act. Prosecutors said her sentence was the longest ever imposed in federal court for an unauthorized release of government information to the media.[52] The New York Times reported, "Under the plea agreement, Ms. Winner will be transferred to the Federal Bureau of Prisons Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, where she can receive treatment for bulimia and be relatively close to her family."[52] She is being held at Carswell with a release date of December 29, 2021.[53]

On August 24, President Trump tweeted: "Ex-NSA contractor to spend 63 months in jail over 'classified' information. Gee, this is 'small potatoes' compared to what Hillary Clinton did! So unfair Jeff, Double Standard." Winner expressed appreciation for his support, saying, "I can't thank him enough."[54] On August 31, Winner said she will ask Trump for clemency as a result of his tweet, and that her legal team was already working on her pardon application.[55]


In 2019 Tina Satter created a play based on the transcript of Winner's interview by the FBI.[56]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brett, Jennifer; Edwards, Johnny (June 11, 2017). "Family and friends recall a life that somehow unraveled". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
  2. ^ Park, Madison (June 6, 2017). "What we know about Reality Winner". CNN. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  3. ^ "Who Is Reality Leigh Winner?". U.S. News & World Report. June 6, 2017. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d Singman, Brooke (June 6, 2017). "Who is Reality Winner? Accused leaker wanted to 'resist' Trump". Fox News. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  5. ^ "Application for a Search Warrant". United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. June 3, 2017. Retrieved September 28, 2017.
  6. ^ "Alleged leaker Reality Winner said she stuffed NSA report in her pantyhose".
  7. ^ "Whatever You Think of the Trump-Russia Investigation, Whistleblower Reality Winner Deserves Your Support". The Intercept. June 2, 2018.
  8. ^ "Accused NSA Leaker Reality Winner To Remain In Jail Pending Trial".
  9. ^ "NSA leak case to paint two portraits of Reality Winner".
  10. ^ "Reality Winner accepts guilty plea for 63 months in prison on espionage charge". The Verge. 2018-06-26.
  11. ^ Vejnoska, Jill (2018-08-23). "Who is Reality Winner, the sentenced NSA leaker?". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 2018-08-24.
  12. ^ Ortiz, Erik. "Who Is Reality Winner, NSA Contractor Accused in Top Secret Leak?". NBC News. Retrieved June 8, 2017.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Howley, Kerry (December 22, 2017). "The World's Biggest Terrorist Has a Pikachu Bedspread". New York. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
  14. ^ Bainbridge, William Sims (July 14, 2017), "Is Reality Winner "One of Us?"", Ethical Technology, The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, retrieved September 4, 2017
  15. ^ Swaine, Jon (June 6, 2017). "Reality Winner: NSA contractor and environmentalist repulsed by Trump". The Guardian. Retrieved June 7, 2017.
  16. ^ Edwards, John (June 7, 2017). "Air Force honored Reality Winner for taking out enemy combatants". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved June 8, 2017.
  17. ^ Charlie Savage, Scott Shane, Alan Blinder (June 6, 2017). "Reality Winner, N.S.A. Contractor Accused of Leak, Was Undone by Trail of Clues". The New York Times. p. A19. Retrieved June 7, 2017. Ms. Winner's apparent Twitter feed, which used a pseudonym but had a photo of her and the same account name as her Instagram feed, makes clear her hostility toward Mr. Trump. That suggests a possible motive for leaking: highlighting Russian hacking of election-related targets, amplifying the narrative that Mr. Trump's victory is tainted.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  18. ^ Krishnadev Calamur (June 6, 2017). "Who Is Reality Winner?". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 7, 2017.
  19. ^ Jeremy Redmon (June 5, 2017). "Augusta contractor charged with mishandling top-secret U.S. materials". Atlanta Journal Constitution. Archived from the original on June 6, 2017. Retrieved June 9, 2017. The government announced Reality Leigh Winner's arrest Monday, about an hour after The Intercept reported that it had obtained a top-secret National Security Agency report about Russia's interference.
  20. ^ Danny Robbins; Christian Boone; J. Scott Trubey (June 9, 2017). "Accused leaker's social posts not enough to shake top secret clearance". Atlanta Journal Constitution. Archived from the original on June 9, 2017. Winner's posts deriding President Trump likely wouldn't trigger interest from NSA personnel unless someone complained, experts said. And even if someone did, deciding whether to take some sort of action would be a difficult call, they said.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ Park, Madison (June 6, 2017). "What we know about Reality Winner". KVIA. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  22. ^ J. Scott Trubey; Jennifer Peebles; Jeremy Redmon (June 7, 2017). "Augusta at center of NSA leak investigation: City is major hub for intelligence community". Atlanta Journal Constitution. Archived from the original on June 9, 2017. As Winner's story unfolded this week, reporters from major networks and newspapers across the country descended here. But few people attached to the military installation would talk on the record. The NSA declined to comment. Local government officials were also tight-lipped.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  23. ^ O'Sullivan, Donie (June 6, 2017). "Accused leaker Reality Winner called Trump an 'orange fascist' on Twitter". CNN. Retrieved June 7, 2017.
  24. ^ "Suspected leaker's Facebook page filled with vitriol against Trump". The Washington Times. June 6, 2017. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  25. ^ Fondacaro, Nicholas (June 7, 2017). "Accused NSA leaker Reality Winner's motives a 'mystery' – At least to ABC, NBC and CBS". Fox News. Retrieved June 7, 2017.
  26. ^ a b ""Who is Reality Winner? Accused leaker wanted to 'resist' Trump". Fox News. June 6, 2017. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  27. ^ a b c d Hurtado, Patricia (June 8, 2017). "Accused Leaker of Top-Secret U.S. Report Loses Bail Request". Retrieved August 24, 2018.
  28. ^ Clark, Johnny; Bynum, Russ (June 8, 2017). "Judge denies bail for alleged NSA leaker Reality Winner". Business Insider. Retrieved June 12, 2017 – via Associated Press.
  29. ^ Silva, Daniella; Grosenick, Kip (June 7, 2017). "Alleged NSA leaker Reality Winner to plead not guilty". NBC News. Retrieved June 8, 2017.
  30. ^ Cole, Matthew; Esposito, Richard; Biddle, Sam; Grim, Ryan (June 5, 2017). "Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election". The Intercept. First Look Media. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  31. ^ Gilbert, David (June 6, 2017). "NSA leak suspect was ratted out by an office printer". Vice News. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  32. ^ Anderson, L.V. "Did The Intercept Betray Its NSA Source With Sloppy Reporting?".
  33. ^ Wemple, Erik (June 6, 2017). "Did the Intercept bungle the NSA leak?". Washington Post.
  34. ^ a b "Federal Government Contractor in Georgia Charged With Removing and Mailing Classified Materials to a News Outlet". US Justice Department. June 5, 2017. Retrieved September 3, 2017. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  35. ^ "WikiLeaks offers $10,000 to get Intercept reporter fired". The Hill. June 6, 2017. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  36. ^ "Wikileaks' Julian Assange tweets support for NSA 'whistleblower' Reality Leigh Winner". Daily Express. June 6, 2017. Retrieved June 6, 2017.
  37. ^ Hartmann, Margaret (June 8, 2017). "Alleged Leaker Reality Winner Pleads Not Guilty, Is Denied Bail". New York Magazine. Retrieved June 9, 2017.
  38. ^ "Prosecutors in Reality Winner Case Push for News Reports to Be 'Classified'". Retrieved August 7, 2017.
  39. ^ "Prosecutors seek order to silence defense on classified information in Reality Winner case". Retrieved August 7, 2017.
  40. ^ Greenwood, Max (September 1, 2017). "Accused leaker Reality Winner moves to suppress statements to police". The Hill. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
  41. ^ Timm, Trevor (October 6, 2017). "Judge Denies Bail for Reality Winner, Accepting Prosecutor's Dubious Allegations". The Intercept.
  42. ^ Timm, Trevor (December 5, 2017). "The Government is trying to make it impossible for Reality Winner to defend herself in court". The Intercept.
  43. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (2018-08-25). "The story of whistleblower Reality Winner is stranger than fiction". LA Times. Retrieved 2019-02-28.
  44. ^ McDonald, R. Robin (January 31, 2018). "Eleventh Circuit Rules That Accused Media Leaker Must Remain Jailed Until Trial". Daily Report. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  45. ^ "Reality Winner's NSA leak trial in Augusta postponed a second time". politics.myajc. Retrieved March 16, 2018.
  46. ^ ""Stand with Reality" Support Group & Defense Fund". Friends of Reality Winner.
  47. ^ "Democracy Now! interview with Reality Winner's mom". March 2, 2018.
  48. ^ O'Brien, Brendan (June 22, 2018). "Reality Winner to change her plea on leaking Russian interference report". Reuters. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  49. ^ Savage, Charlie; Blinder, Alan (June 26, 2018). "Reality Winner, N.S.A. Contractor Accused in Leak, Pleads Guilty". The New York Times. Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  50. ^ Timm, Trevor (June 26, 2018). "Whistleblower Reality Winner, Charged Under the Espionage Act for Helping to Inform Public of Russian Election Meddling, Pleads Guilty". The Intercept. Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  51. ^ "Reality Winner pleads guilty: 'All of these actions I did willfully'". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  52. ^ a b Philipps, Dave (August 23, 2018). "Reality Winner, Former N.S.A. Translator, Gets More Than 5 Years in Leak of Russian Hacking Report". The New York Times. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  53. ^ Inmate Locator, Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved December 26, 2018.
  54. ^ "Jailed NSA leaker Reality Winner on Trump "so unfair" tweet: "I can't thank him enough"". CBS News. August 30, 2018. Retrieved August 30, 2018.
  55. ^ Edwards, Johnny (August 31, 2018). "Reality Winner will ask Trump to reverse her 'so unfair' prison sentence". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved September 3, 2018.
  56. ^ "The Kitchen: Tina Satter/Half Straddle: Is This A Room". Retrieved 2019-02-12.

External links[edit]