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Wednesday, 27 June 2018 10:27

NSA contractor who leaked document gets five years in jail

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Reality Winner will spend 63 months in jail. Reality Winner will spend 63 months in jail. Supplied

An NSA contractor, who leaked a top-secret document to the website, The Intercept, and was caught, has agreed to a plea deal that will see her spend more than five years behind bars.

Reality Winner, 25, told federal court on Tuesday that she would plead guilty to one count of violating the Espionage Act and serve 63 months in jail, followed by three years of supervised release, The Intercept  reported.

Winner was identified as the leaker because the NSA was able to track who had printed out the document, using the yellow dot pattern that many printers place on documents, giving the time and date when the document was printed.

The story based on the document she leaked was published on Monday, 5 June 2017, and Winner's arrest was announced by the Justice Department the same day. The story was about attempts by alleged Russian hackers to break into election infrastructure in the US.

The Intercept has said it has no knowledge of the source of the information; its parent company, First Look Media, contributed to Winner's legal defence through its Press Freedom Defence Fund.

The Intercept's editor-in-chief Betsy Reed said in a statement: “Despite the fact that Winner’s disclosure served the public interest by alerting Americans to vulnerabilities in our voting system, the Trump-Sessions Justice Department prosecuted her with vicious resolve under the Espionage Act.

“Her plea agreement reflects the conclusion of Winner and her lawyers that the terms of this deal represent the best outcome possible for her in the current environment. She not only faced unrelenting pressure from prosecutors, but a series of setbacks in the courtroom severely restricted her lawyers’ ability to defend her.”

The 63-month sentence is the longest imposed on anyone by a federal court for a violation of the Espionage Act. Chelsea Manning, an US Army private, who leaked video of horrific killings by the US military in Iraq to WikiLeaks, was given 37 years under the Act but then had her sentence commuted by former US president Barack Obama. But she was prosecuted in a military court.

The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald, who broke the original Edward Snowden stories, has detailed in his book how he was taught about security measures by the ex-NSA contractor.

However, in this case, it looks like he and the rest of his staff made a bad slip-up which could lead to other potential whistle-blowers being reluctant to trust that their identities would not be compromised by the publication.

Fingers are being pointed at Matt Cole, one of the reporters of the Winner story, as this is the second time that a source in a story he was involved in ended up being prosecuted for espionage. The first was CIA anti-torture whistleblower John Kiriakou.

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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