This weekend, “60 Minutes” aired the first television interview given by Reality Winner since his release from prison this summer. In 2017, Winner leaked a top-secret National Security Agency analysis of Russia’s attempt to penetrate US electoral systems across the country; He ended up serving the longest sentence ever imposed on a civil whistleblower. She pleaded guilty at trial and was sentenced to five years and three months in prison.
Winner’s case is unique and because of how tribal our politics have become, she is a person without a political home. Despite the sacrifices she made, she is largely ignored as a result.
Of course, from the perspective of Trumpworld, which completely rejected any claims of Russian interference, what it leaked was too inconvenient to discuss. The left, for its part, was highly critical of the Democratic approach to the Trump-Russia scandal, arguing that it was an effort by the establishment Democrats to escape the necessary responsibility, so it did not join their cause. Among the resistance liberals, Winner had difficulty gaining ground. At the time of his arrest, top Democrats were closely allied with the public faces of the intelligence world who avidly fueled Trump-Russia theories, but by leaking, Winner had betrayed the intelligence community and the talking heads of the deep state. they had no interest. to take up your cause on CNN or MSNBC.
The document he leaked did not contain evidence of collusion between then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russia. He said that Russia had penetrated our electoral system, but not that it had done anything to manipulate voter lists or votes. The leak exposed flaws in the system while showing that Russia was keeping its options to meddle open, just as it has done in other countries, and as we have in almost every country on the planet.
The Intercept published the document in question along with a story about its significance on June 5, 2017. The Press Freedom Defense Fund, part of the First Look Institute, The Intercept’s parent company, supported Winner’s legal defense.
At the time of her arrest, Winner, an Air Force veteran, was working as a contractor for the NSA. While Winner is now out of prison, he is still on supervised release for the next three years, under onerous conditions. In the interview, she talks about her motivation for the leak and the psychological impact of the government’s aggression against her. As she explains, she felt like she was seeing double by watching Trump publicly claim that Russia had behaved completely innocently during the 2016 election, knowing that his own intelligence service had concluded differently.
“I knew it was secret, but I also knew that I had promised service to the American people, and at the time, I felt they were being misled,” he said.
Even the federal commission in charge of electoral security had no idea what had happened. “What prosecutors called ‘serious harm’ was a real bombshell for the federal Election Assistance Commission, which helps secure the vote,” reported Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes,” adding that election officials took important action in response to Winner’s disclosures. Two sources told CBS that Winner’s leak helped make the 2018 election safer, confirming previous Intercept reports.
At trial, Winner was unable to speak about the document or why he leaked it, but in his interview he rejected the idea that he had ever done anything to put the country at risk. On the contrary, he said: “I thought this was the truth but I also did not betray our sources and methods, it did not cause damage, I did not risk lives. He just filled in a question mark that was splitting our county in half in May 2017 … I didn’t mean to hurt. “
One way the government managed to deny her bail was by suggesting that her language skills, skills in which she had been trained by the military, meant she could defect to the Taliban. That accusation, that she was some kind of traitor, shook her to the core and tormented her the entire time she was confined.
In prison, Winner went to a dark place. Her mother had moved from Texas to Georgia so she could see her regularly. “There would be times when it was hardly worth seeing the end of this,” he said. “I started planning my suicide and practicing races. The only thing stopping me was my mom because she was still in Augusta. My dad had come back to Texas to go to work, and I just refused to let her hear that news for herself, so I’d get on the phone and try to talk about it and say, ‘Hey, there’s no reason to stay.’ . The visits are not worth it, just go back to Texas, just go. ‘
But his mother refused to go. She learned the depth of her daughter’s despair at the same time as “60 Minutes.” “There were some very dark days, but a better day would follow,” her mother told Pelley. “I knew when I was in Georgia I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t leave her. “