Former NSA contractor gets 5 years in prison for leaking Russian probe documents

A former National Security contractor described by a federal prosecutor as “quintessential example of an insider threat,” was sentenced to five years in prison Thursday for leaking to the media classified information about a Russian hacking investigation.

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Reality Leigh Winner, 26, pleaded guilty in June to one count of unlawful retention and transmission of national defense information that she took from an NSA facility in Georgia, officials said.

PHOTO: Reality Winner arrives at a courthouse in Augusta, Ga., Aug. 23, 2018, after she pleaded guilty in June to copying a classified U.S. report and mailing it to an unidentified news organization.Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP
Reality Winner arrives at a courthouse in Augusta, Ga., Aug. 23, 2018, after she pleaded guilty in June to copying a classified U.S. report and mailing it to an unidentified news organization.

“The sentence rendered today is the longest received by a defendant for an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information to the media,” U.S. Justice Department officials said in a statement released Thursday following Winner’s sentencing in Augusta, Georgia.

“It appropriately satisfies the need for both punishment and deterrence, in light of the nature and seriousness of the offense,” the Justice Department statement reads.

Following the sentencing hearing, federal prosecutor Bobby L. Christine told reporters outside the courthouse that Winner’s “treachery and betrayal” was not a victimless crime.

“The intelligence report that Winner disclosed described intelligence activities directed at targets in the United States,” Christine said. “When asked by the FBI, Winner stated that she knew the intelligence report revealed sources and methods used by the U.S. intelligence agency. And she knew that compromising those sources and methods could be valuable to our adversaries and damage the United States.”

PHOTO: Reality Winner arrives at a courthouse after she pleaded guilty in June to copying a classified U.S. report and mailing it to an unidentified news organization, in Augusta, Ga., Aug. 23, 2018.Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP
Reality Winner arrives at a courthouse after she pleaded guilty in June to copying a classified U.S. report and mailing it to an unidentified news organization, in Augusta, Ga., Aug. 23, 2018.

Winner was a contractor with top-secret clearance when she allegedly leaked a classified report about Russian election interference to the online publication The Intercept. The Department of Justice said she printed and improperly removed the classified information on May 9 and then mailed it a few days later.

At the time, Winner was working at an NSA outpost, while technically employed by a government contractor called Pluribus International Corporation.

“She was a quintessential example of an insider threat,” Christine said.

“I had no intention to harm national security,” Winner told a judge Thursday prior to being sentenced, according to the Associated Press. “I would like to apologize profusely for my actions. My actions were a cruel betrayal of my nation’s trust in me.”

Winner’s attorney Titus Nichols called the sentence “fair” and said he and Winner are “grateful” that the judge accepted the plea deal negotiated with the government.

PHOTO: Reality Winner, who pleaded guilty to mailing a classified U.S. report to a news organization, walks out of a courthouse, Aug. 23, 2018, in Augusta, Ga.Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP
Reality Winner, who pleaded guilty to mailing a classified U.S. report to a news organization, walks out of a courthouse, Aug. 23, 2018, in Augusta, Ga.

“We feel this is the best resolution,” Nichols said. “Of course the ultimate resolution would have been if she were able to walk away… But in light of all the facts in the case, we feel this was fair.”

Winner is the first person to be jailed under the Trump administration after being accused of leaking classified information.

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