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Reality Winner, a former NSA contractor, agreed to a plea deal and was sentenced to 63 months in prison for leaking classified NSA documents related to U.S. election attacks by Russia.
The sentence for the NSA leaker is the longest ever for someone disclosing national defense information to the media, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Winner pleaded guilty to leaking the documents after being arrested in early June 2017.
Winner admitted to providing news outlet The Intercept with a copy of a classified report detailing a Russian military spear phishing campaign against local election officials around the country in the days before the 2016 presidential election. The same information was included in grand jury indictments of Russian intelligence agents in July 2018 as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference.
Prosecutors in the case alleged the NSA leaker caused "exceptionally grave" damage to U.S. national security by releasing the documents. But Winner's defense attorneys positioned her actions as whistleblowing intended to expose information for the good of the U.S. public.
Discussion about the sentencing of the NSA leaker has largely fallen along these lines with some, like Kimber Dowsett, security architect for 18F, expressing on Twitter that the sentence reflects the law of the U.S.
I know a lot of you are expressing solidarity with Reality Winner, but (unpopular opinion) she did, in fact, risk her freedom by leaking classified information. The content and reasons are irrelevant. Did Intercept drop the ball? Yes, but it doesn't negate that she broke the law.— bat (@mzbat) August 23, 2018
However, others like Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, noted a desire to see more whistleblower protections in the U.S.
"Reality Winner is a whistleblower who alerted the public about a critical threat to election security. It is a travesty that the Justice Department continues to prosecute sources of journalists under the Espionage Act, a statute meant for spies that doesn't allow for a public interest defense," Timm wrote in a statement. "Winner performed a public service by alerting the public and state officials to dangerous vulnerabilities in election infrastructure, and it's shameful the Justice Department would seek any prison time for her doing so -- let alone the longest sentence for such an act in history."