Espionage Act

National Security Agency Leaker Reality Winner Freed from Prison Early

She was sentenced to more than five years for revealing how Russia tried to hack the 2016 election.


Imprisoned former National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner, who leaked documents to the press about Russia's attempt to hack into voting systems during the 2016 presidential election, was released today from prison, her lawyer reports.

Winner was arrested in 2017 when the government tracked her down as the source of documents leaked to The Intercept. In 2018, after being denied bail or pretrial release, she accepted a harsh plea deal that sentenced her to 63 months in prison.

That was the longest sentence handed down to a government contractor who leaked to the press. She appealed to President Donald Trump to commute her sentence. Winner's leaks did not implicate the president or anybody in his campaign or administration with assisting in the hack campaign or even being aware of it, but nevertheless Trump declined. Last year federal prosecutors also fought Winner's attempt to get a compassionate release over the risk of COVID-19.

Her early release is not attributable to President Joe Biden's administration either, according to her attorney, Alison Grinter Allen. Winner had time removed from her sentence for good behavior while she was imprisoned. Biden did not pardon her or commute her sentence.

Don't expect a big speech from Winner in the near future. Allen says she's still forbidden from "public statements or appearances."

When Winner was arrested, I noted that she revealed information that Americans should arguably be allowed access to, regardless of whether Winner should be perceived as a whistleblower. We, as citizens, have a right to know about attempts to compromise our election system. To the extent that Winner violated the federal Espionage Act, it was—as in Edward Snowden's case—to inform the American public about something that happened, not to engage in any actual espionage. Her long sentence was shameful, and the Biden administration's failure to act is a useful reminder that federal targeting of whistleblowers and leakers is a bipartisan affair.