On Sunday, Reality Winner appeared on 60 Minutes and sat down with journalist Scott Pelley to discuss her espionage conviction and subsequent release. Winner made news in 2017 when she shared a highly-classified NSA report detailing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.
Winner began career in defense at the age of 19, when she enlisted in the Air Force. She was a linguist who worked with U.S. secret combat units in Afghanistan and Iraq. After earning an Air Force commendation medal in 2016 for “600 enemies killed in action,” Winner joined the NSA as a citizen contractor.
In 2017, Winner came across a confidential in-house report, confirming that Russia had extensively meddled in the 2016 elections. She printed the report and mailed it to The Intercept, which is a government watchdog. They published the report and Winner was arrested soon afterwards.
Winner alleges that the White House was trying to cover up the report. She was concerned because she observed the social unrest that 2016 elections brought about in the U.S..
“I am not a traitor,” Winner said. “I am not a spy. I am somebody who only acted out of love for what this country stands for.”
“I knew [the report] was secret,” Winner continued later. “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.”
Under the laws of the Espionage Act, Winner was not allowed to discuss the details of the report she leaked, nor why she leaked it. She was sentenced to 63 months in prison, the longest ever imposed in federal court for an unauthorized release of government information to the media.
Winner is legally still not allowed to discuss the details of her case. She is on parole for three more years but looks forward to the day when she can clear her name.
“I’ve had four years of just trying to say I’m not a terrorist,” Winner said while tears rolled down her cheeks. “I can’t even begin to talk about my actual espionage indictment. Or have a sense of accomplishment in having survived prison. Because I’m still stained by them accusing me of being [in] the same groups that I enlisted in the Air Force to fight against.”
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