Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Reality Winner’s treatment is how the US now works

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In the NY Times, Megan K. Stack has a profile of Reality Winner (no paywall). The profile begins:

It was a big deal that Reality Winner’s probation officer let her travel from Texas to her sister’s house in North Carolina over Thanksgiving. She is, after all, a traitor, in the eyes of the law.

Ms. Winner was arrested in 2017 for leaking to journalists a classified intelligence report on Russian hacks into U.S. election infrastructure and has been confined ever since — in a Georgia county jail, a federal prison, a halfway house and, most recently, in a probation so strict that she often feels strangled.

Still, Ms. Winner viewed the trip with the wariness of an underdog conditioned to expect any small kindnesses to turn back against her.

“It wasn’t my idea,” she said flatly by phone. “I preferred not to go.”

Oh, and another thing, she said pointedly: She went during Thanksgiving but for her niece’s birthday.

“I hate Thanksgiving,” she said. “I hate the food. I hate the vibe.”

This side of Ms. Winner becomes familiar after a while: the cranky prison yard impulse to let everyone know just how much she doesn’t care and can’t be hurt. It poorly camouflages the battered idealist who, despite disillusionment and harsh punishment, appears bent on finding some way to make herself useful on a grand scale. She never had much money, education or connections, but in her own way, she has repeatedly tried to save the country — first as a military linguist guiding foreign drone attacks and later by warning the public that Donald Trump was lying to them about Russia.

Both efforts went bad, though, which is why I think of Ms. Winner as a sorrowful casualty — not only of our poisoned political culture but also of a contemporary America replete with corruption and amoral bureaucracy. The harder she tried, it seems, the more her ideals soured into disgust.

When I first spoke to Ms. Winner, in the summer of 2021, she was still fighting the drug habit she’d picked up behind bars and trying to tamp down the explosive aggression she’d used on the guards. On home confinement at her mother and stepfather’s ranch outside Corpus Christi, Texas, she held forth in meandering, disarmingly frank phone calls about the degradations of prison, the power of linguistics, a surreal childhood crossing back and forth into Mexico on pharmacy runs with her opioid-addicted father.

All these months later, Ms. Winner is still on probation, but she’s grown more focused and stable. Most of her energies now are fixed on attracting clients to her CrossFit coaching practice. At 31, she is already a living relic of one of our nation’s most surreal political crises.

She still isn’t allowed to talk about her military service or the contents of her leak, leaving me to puzzle over why a young woman who still guards the secrets of the terrorism wars would risk everything to expose a five-page National Security Agency file on efforts to hack voter registration systems.

Ms. Winner mailed the report anonymously to The Intercept, where a reporter took the ill-advised step of giving a copy to the N.S.A. for verification. The authorities almost immediately zeroed in on her. She was charged under the Espionage Act, the same laws used to prosecute the Rosenbergs, Aldrich Ames and pretty much any other 20th-century spy you can name. The act has long been criticized for lumping together leaks motivated by public interest and, say, peddling nuclear secrets to a foreign government. Ms. Winner is considered a prime example of its downside.

She pleaded guilty and was given 63 months in prison, the longest federal sentence ever for the unauthorized release of materials to the media. (The former C.I.A. director David Petraeus got off with probation and a fine for sharing eight notebooks full of highly classified information with his biographer, who was also his mistress.)

Deemed a flight risk and denied bail, Ms. Winner languished for 16 months in a crammed Georgia county jail cell. While negotiating her plea deal with prosecutors, she said, she plotted suicide and fantasized about federal prison “like I was going away to an elite university — ‘Oh, look, they have a rec center, they have a track, they have a commissary, they sell makeup.’”

All of that for nothing or, at least, for very little. Ms. Winner’s intervention hardly registered. She wanted to prove that the White House was lying: U.S. officials knew that Russia had attacked U.S. voting infrastructure just days before the 2016 election. But the revelation hardly scratched public awareness. . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

6 December 2022 at 5:28 pm

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