One of the main reasons former NSA contractor Reality Winner accepted a plea deal was that the government would never allow her defense team to declassify certain classified information and present those details to a jury. Yet, days ago, as she was about to be transported to a county jail, some of that classified information was laying out in the open with no markings whatsoever.
Winner was charged with violating the Espionage Act after she mailed a copy of a classified report from the NSA on alleged Russian hacking of voter registration systems to the Intercept. She accepted a plea deal on June 26 and was sentenced to five years and three months in prison on August 23, which was the longest sentence ever for a person accused of an unauthorized disclosure.
She was detained at the Lincolnton County Detention Center for well over a year and was supposed to be at Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, by the end of September. But the Federal Bureau of Prisons has yet to process Winner and send her to Carswell.
Winner arrived at a federal transfer center in Oklahoma City, where she expected to be processed before she was moved to Carswell. However, the BOP was apparently not ready for her so she was put in a transport vehicle and taken to Grady County Jail in Chickasha, Oklahoma.
When Winner arrived at the county jail, Winner noticed a document. “It was kind of left on the desk, and I was waiting for them to get my clothes. I noticed one of the dudes that we were traveling with. He had a security profile that was elevated, and it explained very, very briefly three prior escape attempts.”
“I started reading down more of the names, and I saw my name at the bottom and I had this whole little subparagraph under my name,” Winner recalled. “Basically, it said broad publicity, and then it went into the leak and what the leak was about and these are things, country names that my lawyers aren’t even allowed to say anymore.”
“Here it was on this government document. [It] didn’t even have any kinds of heading,” Winner added. “What does this have to do regarding me being transported? It’s not like they’re going to search my bra and then a whole ream of paper is going to fly out. It’s just absolutely ridiculous that my information like that would have to be on that sheet along with somebody else who needed consideration because they tried to escape three times.”
As Winner suggested, the whole point was [her case] did not go to trial because “that one sentence right there could not be told to a jury and be made public.” She said, “I don’t understand why that was there or [why] they felt the need to do that.”
None of the officers handling this document had security clearances. They were correctional officers at the county jail. They weren’t from the U.S. Marshal’s Office.
Winner was concerned about correctional officers reading sensitive information about her case because they may not understand the description containing classified details. It could also expose her to retaliation from officers if they disagreed with her politically and thought she was part of some liberal effort to take down President Donald Trump.
“Everybody thinks that I’m a spy or that I sold secrets to another country,” Winner claimed. “For me, I’m like, who is saying this bullshit because that’s not it at all? You see that on that paper and what’s being spread and certainly this can’t be authorized.”
“I know that one of the guards was not even sure if I was even allowed to make any kind of phone calls or have any visitation. So I had to wait until his shift was over and then ask the next shift if I could make a phone call. Of course, I was able to. I spent an hour on the phone that night. It was no problem,” she added.
“It does affect the way I’m treated. You know, different officers have different rules regarding my privileges based on those sentences on that paper.”
Winner was flown to Oklahoma City from a federal holding facility in Atlanta. Authorities flew her to Atlanta from the Baker County Detention Center in Macclenny, Florida, which is an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility.
While imprisoned at the ICE facility, Winner was kept in isolation for one week. She was released into the general population before authorities shipped her to Atlanta.
Winner recalled begging a lieutenant to let her into general population. According to Winner, “The lieutenant said things like we’re not doing this because we want to restrict you but we do worry about your safety because your high-profile. We don’t know how people react. It’s ridiculous because nobody in these jails—very few people even know my name or why I’m here. I don’t even go by my name.”
John Kiriakou, who was the first member of the CIA to publicly acknowledge that torture was official United States policy under President George W. Bush’s administration, pled guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) when he confirmed the name of an officer involved in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program to a reporter.
He was sentenced in January 2013, and reported to a prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania, on February 28, 2013. He was released on February 3, 2015.
While in prison, the Bureau of Prisons placed what is called a “greatest severity” public safety factor on his name. Officials wrongly interpreted his crime as one that involved “espionage, treason, or other related offenses.” He was imprisoned with people guilty of arson, robbery, drug offenses, sexual offenses, etc. This included people from the mafia.
The Bureau of Prisons does not distinguish between mishandling or leaking “national defense information” and committing the more severe offense of “espionage.” That appears to be what is happening in Winner’s case.
Kiriakou, who has supported Winner, said this document Winner saw shows the information was “improperly classified in the first place. It was not truly classified information. It had nothing to do with sources and methods, and it caused no harm to national security. It’s just that they wanted to make an example of her to frighten off any other would-be whistleblowers.”
“They’ve proven that by releasing the same information to uncleared—in some cases, unclearable individuals in the Bureau of Prisons,” Kiriakou asserted. “If the information that she was not allowed to say in court was truly sensitive, truly classified, it would never have been communicated to the Bureau of Prisons.”
The details that Winner says were on this desk for anyone passing by to read involve information that Winner can never talk about with any journalist. If she talks about these details, it will expose her to potential re-prosecution. The government could revoke her plea deal.
In a previous interview, Titus Nichols, who was part of Winner’s defense team, described how difficult it is to defend someone accused of violating the Espionage Act.
“You have to get permission to discuss a classified document or discuss something that might not itself be classified but when combined with another fact would appear to be classified,” Nichols said. “There’s all these restrictions that you have that you ordinarily wouldn’t have. There’s a gap between the Espionage Act, and it completely protecting someone’s Fourth, Fifth, [or] Sixth Amendment rights in regards to criminal prosecution.”
Winner expects to be at Grady County Jail until at least October 9, and then she is likely to be moved to the federal facility, where she will serve the bulk of her sentence.