Edward Snowden defends jailed NSA contractor Reality Winner

“To hold a citizen incommunicado and indefinitely while awaiting trial for the alleged crime of serving as a journalistic source should outrage us all.”

Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old NSA contractor, was arrested by the FBI and charged under the Espionage Act for leaking to the press a classified document relating to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. (Photo credit: Facebook)

By: Obert Madondo |  | Published June -, 2017, by The Canadian Progressive

The unveiling prosecution of 25-year-old National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Reality Leigh Winner is “a fundamental threat to the free press,” says Edward Snowden.

Winner was arrested over the weekend by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for leaking a document relating to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The publisher of the document, The Intercept, has not confirmed her as its source.

In a statement released Tuesday, Snowden said Winner is “accused of serving as a journalistic source for a leading American news outlet about a matter of critical public importance.”

“The prosecution of any journalistic source without due consideration by the jury as to the harm or benefit of the journalistic activity is a fundamental threat to the free press,” said Snowden. “No matter one’s opinions on the propriety of the charges against her, we should all agree Winner should be released on bail pending trial.”

Winner is charged under the “Espionage Act”, the same law Snowden is charged under for his 2013 leaking of a treasurer-trove of classified documents exposing the NSA’s indiscriminate and warrantless surveillance of US citizens. Snowden, who is currently based in Russia, faces up to 30 years in prison for the NSA leak.

Last fall, Sen. Bernie Sanders and over 100 human rights activists, legal scholars, business leaders, artists and former national security officials called on former president Barack Obama to pardon. They argued that the world’s most famous whistleblower’s act of conscience had benefited the U.S. and “enriched democratic debate worldwide.”

Winner appeared in court Thursday and pleaded not guilty to the leaking charge. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

Talking Points Memo describes Winner as “an Air Force veteran and former military linguist, fluent in Pashto, Farsi and Dari, with top secret security clearance.” According to the Guardian, she’s  a “vegan yoga enthusiast, who enjoyed adopting abandoned pets and sending shoeboxes full of gifts to Afghan children.” The publication adds that the intelligence contractor is a “passionate environmentalist” who grew heavy-hearted as Donald Trump quickly gave the go-ahead for construction of the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines.”

A GoFundMe online fundraising drive set up in Winner’s name had raised US$21,200 on Thursday evening.

Below is Snowden’s full statement, first published on the website of the journalism advocacy group, Freedom of the Press Foundation:

The Justice Department released an indictment of twenty five year-old NSA contractor Reality Winner yesterday, just a few hours after the Intercept posted a story based on a top secret document that described how the NSA believes Russian actors tried to hack into US voting infrastructure. Much is unknown, as the public is made to depend upon the potentially unreliable claims of government prosecutors, while Winner is held in jail without any contact with the public.

What we do know is clear: Winner is accused of serving as a journalistic source for a leading American news outlet about a matter of critical public importance. For this act, she has been charged with violating the Espionage Act—a World War I era law meant for spies—which explicitly forbids the jury from hearing why the defendant acted, and bars them from deciding whether the outcome was to the public’s benefit. This often-condemned law provides no space to distinguish the extraordinary disclosure of inappropriately classified information in the public interest—whistleblowing—from the malicious disclosure of secrets to foreign governments by those motivated by a specific intent to harm to their countrymen.

The prosecution of any journalistic source without due consideration by the jury as to the harm or benefit of the journalistic activity is a fundamental threat to the free press. As long as a law like this remains on the books in a country that values fair trials, it must be resisted.

No matter one’s opinions on the propriety of the charges against her, we should all agree Winner should be released on bail pending trial. Even if you take all the government allegations as true, it’s clear she is neither a threat to public safety nor a flight risk. To hold a citizen incommunicado and indefinitely while awaiting trial for the alleged crime of serving as a journalistic source should outrage us all.

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based blogger, activist, photographer, digital rights enthusiast, former political aide, and former international development administrator. He's the founder and editor of these independent publications: The Canadian Progressive, a political blog dedicated to progressive Canadian journalism; The Zimbabwean Progressive, a political blog dedicated to producing fearless, progressive, adversarial, unapologetic, and activism-oriented Zimbabwean journalism; and Charity Files, a publication dedicated to journalism in the charitable public's interest. Follow Obert on Twitter: @Obiemad