NSA leaker Reality Winner gets 63 months in jail | Cyber Security

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Reality Leigh Winner, the NSA contractor who leaked sensitive information to the Intercept last year, was sentenced to 63 months in prison last week along with three years of supervised release.

Winner began working as a linguist for contractor Pluribus International at the National Security Agency’s office in Fort Gordon, Georgia, in February 2017, carrying a Top Secret clearance. In May that year, she leaked a five-page document classified as Top-Secret/Special Intelligence to the Intercept, an online news outlet created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media project. The document outlined efforts by Russian military intelligence to hack voting software providers and local election officials in advance of the 2016 election.

The Intercept, initially founded as a way to communicate information leaked to journalists by whistleblower Edward Snowden, contacted the government at the end of May to authenticate the document. Upon reviewing what the Intercept sent them, government investigators noticed that it had a crease, indicating that it was a printout.

Officials conducted an internal audit, and found that six individuals had printed the document. Auditing their desktops showed that Winner had emailed the news outlet asking for podcast transcripts and subscribing to its feed.

At the time, some mused that officials may also have been tipped off by a unique dot pattern printed as part of the document, which can be used to tie material to a specific printer.

Winner was prosecuted under the Espionage Act. Her sentence was expected, as it was outlined in a plea deal reached in June. The alternative penalty could have been far higher. The prosecution accused her of violating Title 18, United States Code, Section 793(e) of the US Code. That section deals with ‘gathering, transmitting, or losing defense information’. Violating this law carries a hefty fine of up to $250,000 and a sentence of up to ten years.

In a prepared statement, Winner said that she had no intention of harming national security. She added:

I’d like to apologize profusely for my actions and apologize especially to my family: My actions were a betrayal of my country.

Winner’s case has provoked heated debate on both sides, with some praising her for revealing information of great value to the public, and others drawing a distinction between those who expose wrongdoing and those who simply divulge classified information.