NSA leaker Reality Winner sentenced to over 5 years in prison

She's reportedly been given the longest sentence for a federal crime that involves leaking to the media.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou
2 min read
Reality Winner

Reality Winner

Sean Rayford/Getty Images

It's done. Reality Winner, a former National Security Agency contractor, has been sentenced to more than five years in prison for leaking classified government information to the media.

On Thursday, a federal court in Georgia sentenced the 26-year-old to 63 months in prison, CBS News reported. It's apparently the longest sentence imposed for a federal crime that involves leaking to the media.

"Winner's purposeful violation put our nation's security at risk," Bobby Christine, US attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, said in a statement. "The US has to balance the need for prosecution with the damage that further disclosure of classified information at trial might cause. [Winner's sentence] will give pause to others who are entrusted with our country's sensitive national security information and would consider compromising it."

Winner reportedly apologized in court and said that what she did was wrong.

"Today marks the end of one chapter [for Winner] and the beginning of a new one," Joe Whitley, Winner's main lawyer, said in an emailed statement. "She recognizes that the path forward to making the world a better place should always be through lawful actions."

This comes after Winner pleaded guilty to espionage charges in June for releasing a classified National Security Agency report to news outlet The Intercept. The report showed how Russian hackers had tried to compromise US election officials less than two weeks before the 2016 presidential vote.

Winner had already been jailed over the past year since investigators tracked her down by tracing the printer she used to print out the classified report before mailing it. Pages she printed using NSA printers came with nearly invisible tracking dots. 

First Amendment advocates criticized her sentence.

"The harsh sentence imposed on Reality Winner will send a chilling message to would-be whistleblowers, and deprive the public of crucial information about official corruption, incompetence and abuse of power," Jameel Jaffer, human rights attorney and executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said in an emailed statement. "From President Trump's revocation of former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance to today's harsh sentencing of Reality Winner, the last two weeks have provided spectacular confirmation that our system of protecting secrets is deeply broken and itself a profound threat to our democracy."

Watch this: How do WikiLeaks' CIA hacking claims differ from Snowden NSA?

First published Aug. 23, 1:33 p.m. PT.
Update, Aug. 24 at 6:08 a.m. PT: Adds video and more background.

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