What Reality Winner Did: Whistle Blowing In the Face of Obstruction

   Utter obstruction has been simply allowed to prevent citizens from bringing the three Supreme Court cases (#16-907, 16-1464 and 17-857) that would have fixed the Trump-Russian election fraud. What then are the “proper channels?” Needless to say, these channels do not work properly, and the agencies are allowed to use their power to attack anyone who uses the proper channels- a circumstance extremely dangerous in the long run. Look at my pinned tweet, and know that that is a crime, and that NOTHING is done despite the crime being demonstrable without even leaving Twitter. Those without “Security clearance” who yet know what has been occurring need to step up, because those who know are forbidden to speak. It is of the first importance that our government maintain integrity, so that “whistleblowing” is not necessary to preserve our liberty, but unfortunately it now may be. Without security clearance, we guessed in November of 2016 that data collection and targeted interference had thrown the election, that Russia was behind it, that Kaspersky was the instrument, and that our nation was thus in grave danger. I was apparently prevented from contacting computer specialist J. Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan to even raise the question. Kaspersky has barely broke the press, and not yet in connection with the Cambridge Analytica method of turning elections, but that is how the Philippines were blessed with Dutarte, Brexit turned, and America placed under a self destructive tyranny. The FBI sought Russian help in spying on literally every American in order to prevent terrorism,” and the Russians used this to have Trump elected, throughout the primaries the election and electoral college. Now the executive branch, which might fix it, has been seized, and we are placed under a tyranny. Fascism is being promoted to lead us into foreign and civil war to the delight of Putin, who out-strategies Trump like a child, and will continue to do so unless we impeach Trump and correct the election. Reality Winner may be technically guilty, but the use of our legal system to secure tyranny is the more serious crime, and we the people so far will do nothing.

Excerpt from New York magazine, by Kerry Howley

   In November, the man Reality referred to as “orange fascist” became president of the United States. That fall, Reality and her then-boyfriend Matt Boyle stopped seeing one another, and four days before Christmas, her father died. …

Her father had always talked about going to Belize to see the ruins, and so she decided to go on a three-day trip in memory of him. She returned to a workplace at which she was increasingly unhappy. It bothered her that the screens at NSA Georgia were always tuned to Fox News, and it bothered her enough that she filed a formal complaint. In her free time, she sought out the staff of David Perdue, the U.S. senator from Georgia, and arranged a 30-minute meeting to discuss climate change and the Dakota Access Pipeline; on Facebook, she explained that she had drawn for Perdue’s staff “a parallel between the 2011 interview of President Bashar al Assad claiming utter ignorance of the human rights violations his citizens were protesting” and Trump’s claim that the White House had received no calls about the Dakota Access Pipeline.

   In those first months on the job, the country was still adjusting to Trump, and it seemed possible to some people that he would be quickly impeached. Reality listened to a podcast called Intercepted, hosted by the left-wing anti-security-state website the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill and featuring its public face, Glenn Greenwald, and listened intensely enough to email the Intercept and ask for a transcript of an episode. Scahill and Greenwald had been, and continue to be, cautious about accusations of Russian election meddling, which they foresee being used as a pretext for justifying U.S. militarism. “There is a tremendous amount of hysterics, a lot of theories, a lot of premature conclusions being drawn around all of this Russia stuff,” Scahill said on the podcast in March. “And there’s not a lot of hard evidence to back it up. There may be evidence, but it’s not here yet.”

There was evidence available to Reality.

   The document was marked top secret, which is supposed to mean that its disclosure could “reasonably be expected” to cause “exceptionally grave damage” to the U.S. Sometimes, this is true. Reality would have known that, in releasing the document, she ran the risk of alerting the Russians to what the intelligence community knew, but it seemed to her that this specific account ought to be a matter of public discourse. Why isn’t this getting out there? she thought. Why can’t this be public? It was surprising to her that someone hadn’t already done it.

   Those who criticize whistle-blowers often suggest that the offender ought to have followed a more “responsible” course — what Obama once called in his criticism of Snowden the “procedures and practices of the intelligence community.” There are reasons notorious leakers have stopped doing so, and those reasons involve a man named Thomas Drake. In 2002, Drake had concerns about a wasteful and unconstitutional $1 billion warrantless-wiretapping program later revealed to be among the worst and most expensive failures in the history of U.S. intelligence. He alerted the NSA’s general counsel, informed Diane Roark, a Republican staffer on the House Intelligence Committee in charge of NSA oversight, and, anonymously, informed congressional committees investigating the mistakes that led to 9/11. He alerted the inspector general of the Department of Defense, which launched an investigation. Colleagues warned him that he ought to stop. Eventually, the FBI raided Drake’s home and the Justice Department charged him with “willful retention of national defense information.” An assistant inspector general later claimed that the Pentagon was punishing Drake for whistle-blowing and had improperly destroyed material related to his defense. Drake lost his job, his pension, and his savings. His marriage fell apart. He now works at the Apple store in Bethesda, Maryland.

   William Binney, a longtime NSA technical director, went to both the inspector general of the Department of Defense and Roark, with complaints about massive amounts of wasteful spending; the FBI raided his home, pointed a gun at him while he was in the shower, and revoked his security clearance. He was 63. (For good measure, they raided Roark’s house, too.)

   Drake and Binney, among others, had attempted to work through the system, only to be retaliated against. But something shifted in 2010, when a 22-year-old private named Bradley Manning sent a trove of secrets straight to WikiLeaks. Snowden, 29, went to particular journalists he trusted (one of whom was Greenwald). These whistle-blowers spent far less time at their respective agencies or contractors and had considerably less faith that their superiors might be sensitive to their concerns. They were in their 20s, a time of great ideological foment for many intelligent people, and an age at which many are at their most ideologically rigid. Snowden and Manning were not career service people who had grown concerned with the way some work being done by colleagues violated the values of the institution in which they still believed, but newcomers — an IT contractor and a soldier — suddenly face-to-face with the whole system of American surveillance. And Snowden, in particular, knew exactly what happened to people who followed proper channels.

   “The disclosure system, the whistle-blower system, the ability to bring wrongdoing and questions about policy, is fraught with corruption,” says Drake, who speaks mostly in a kind of outraged abstraction. “It does not protect the whistle-blower, the truth-teller. It’s designed to ferret them out and hammer them from within.”

   For those inside the web of secrecy, that makes a bad mood on a bad day, a snap decision in the midst of a quarter-life crisis, potentially catastrophic.

The classified report on the Russian cyberattack was not a document for which Reality had a “need to know,” which is to say she wasn’t supposed to be reading it in her spare time, let alone printing it, and were she to print it for some reason, she was required to place it in a white slatted box called a “burn bag.”

Why do I have this job, Reality thought, if I’m just going to sit back and be helpless?

  Reality folded up the document, stuffed it in her pantyhose, and walked out of the building, its sharp corners pressing into her skin. Later that day, President Trump fired James Comey, who had been leading an investigation into Russian election-meddling. Reality placed the document in an envelope without a return address and dropped it in a standing mailbox in a strip-mall parking lot. Court documents suggest she also sent a copy to another outlet, though which one we don’t know.

   When the envelope first arrived at the Intercept, there was considerable doubt that the document within it was real. The reporters decided, per standard journalistic practice, to contact someone who could verify its authenticity. What is less standard — what Thomas Drake calls “abhorrent” and Tim Shorrock calls “just shameful” and investigative journalist Barton Gellman called “egregious” — is for a reporter to provide a copy of the document itself, which could help reveal precisely who had provided it. On May 30, according to court filings, an unnamed reporter sent pictures of the document to a contractor for the U.S. government and told the contractor that they’d been postmarked in Augusta. The contractor initially said that the documents were fake but, after checking with someone at the NSA, reported that they were real. (The Intercept declines to comment for this story, though its parent company is contributing to Reality’s defense.)

   On June 5, under the headline “Top Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election” and bylined by four reporters, the Intercept published a scan of the leaked document with some redactions. The document it had incidentally given to the NSA — which had then sent it to the FBI — and which was now freely available on the internet, shows creases that suggest it was printed, folded, and carried, rather than submitted online. It contains watermarks indicating that it was printed on May 9, 2017, at 6:20 a.m., from a printer with the serial number 535218 or 29535218. The NSA knew, from its internal surveillance, that only six people had printed the document. Of those six, only one had emailed the Intercept asking for a transcript of a podcast.

Reality Winner exercising at the Lincoln County Detention Center in Lincoln, Georgia, on June 12. Photo: MGJR/SBMF/BACKGRID

   Reality quickly confessed to the FBI agents who came to her home to get her, a confession she would later contest because she was not read her Miranda rights. As she awaited her bail hearing, she was held in the Lincoln County Detention Center, an afterthought of a holding cell in small-town Georgia. Seven other women, all of whom were there on drug offenses, passed their days alongside Reality in a single room stacked with bunk beds, loud with the blare of television. This would be the place Reality would have to await trial — a process that would take many months — if she were not granted bail at a preliminary detention hearing.

   She called her sister and sounded terrified. “Oh, boy, Britty, I screwed up,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m getting out of this one … I just, I can’t even get over the little things, like I was supposed to teach yoga today, I was supposed to be on a date last night. I know it’s stupid, but that’s my whole life, that’s all I had—”

“It’s not stupid,” said Brittany, and pointed out that her husband’s first concern was that Reality would refuse to eat any of the jail food.

“I was like, ‘The only thing she eats is kale, so …’ ”

“I know, I feel absolutely terrible, there’s so much white bread here, I … I—”

“I’m sorry I’m laughing at you,” said Brittany, laughing.

They joked about Orange Is the New Black, and Reality, embarrassed but unable to shake the worry of obligation, asked her sister to arrange for a substitute for a cycling class she taught, then returned to feelings of hopelessness.

“I feel like I’m being a diva,” she said, “like there are freakin’ Syrian refugees that have nothing but still go from one day to the next.”

“I think it’s still going to be okay,” said Brittany.

“I didn’t think. I did not think of the consequences for even a second.”

“You’re going to get through this.”

“I keep telling myself to act more like I did something wrong,” said Reality, and laughed.

“Well, maybe you’re right,” said Brittany, “I don’t mean to discount the effect of being pretty and white and blonde. I’m kidding.”

“I’m definitely playing that card. I’m going to look cute like …”

Brittany was laughing.

“I’m going to—”

“Cry a lot.”

   As an advocate for children at Child Protective Services, Billie Winner was familiar with courtrooms and proceedings. Reality, she reasoned, was not a flight risk. She could safely come home and await trial. It would all work out.

   Reality, blonde hair in a bun, in an orange jumpsuit with the words inmate stitched in yellow on the chest, was led into the courtroom in handcuffs by two armed U.S. Marshals. Inside the room, her cuffs and a chain around her waist were removed, but the Marshals stood before her the entire time. Her mother and stepfather waited outside the room to be called in.

   Reality had written everything down. Assistant prosecutor Jennifer Solari described journals the FBI had seized from Reality’s home: notes she had made in a foreign language the prosecutors could neither read nor identify, jobs abroad she wanted to apply for, “two notebooks containing … numerous doodles of the defendant’s own name.” Among the minutiae of her life, the workouts and the worries, scribblings about dental insurance at her new job, prosecutors also found this: “I want to burn the white house down, find someplace to live in Jordan or Nepal. Ha ha. Maybe.” She had written, elsewhere, “Perhaps bin Laden was the Judas to Omar’s Christ-like vision of a fundamental Islamic nation. Yaqoob would know. Where is Yaqoob? Pakistan.”

   Billie was the first to take the stand. She was asked why her daughter “took up an interest at the age of 17 in learning Arabic or Farsi or Dari or any of those?” and whether she had ever heard her daughter make plans to meet with the Taliban. She was asked whether her daughter had ever been in trouble, and she told the old story of the eighth-grade food fight Reality had insisted not be on spaghetti day.

   Over the course of the hearing, the prosecution pointedly used the phrase “not criminal, but … of interest.” It’s not criminal, but it is “of interest,” to know how to change a sim card. It’s not criminal, but it is “of interest,” to own “four phones, two laptops, and one tablet.” And then there was the fact of a woman’s traveling alone to Belize “by herself for only three days, including travel. Nothing criminal about that, Your Honor, but it seems odd.”

The prosecution cross-examined Reality’s stepfather; when they called her his stepdaughter, he corrected them: my daughter.

“You and your wife were largely unaware of what your daughter did in terms of her employment,” the prosecutor said.

“She carried a Top Secret security clearance.”

“Right. So you really didn’t know what it was—”

“They can’t discuss what they do.”

   There was also the question of character, and here the prosecution made frequent reference to jailhouse calls between Reality and her sister, which, it turned out, had been recorded: There was the conversation about Orange Is the New Black. “This defendant has shown her intent and her plan to manipulate this court,” said Solari, “by playing a cute white girl with her cute little braids and perhaps shedding some tears.”

   I’ve spoken to Billie about her daughter for hours at a time, and it’s only the memory of the bail hearing that brings her to tears. “They took her words,” says Billie, lifting her glasses, closing her eyes, pressing her fingertips to her brows, “and they twisted them around.”

  This is perhaps the most surprising thing about the story of Airman Reality Winner, linguist, intelligence specialist, a woman who spent years of her life dropping in on conversations among people this country considers potential enemies: It did not occur to her, in a moment of crisis, that someone might be listening.

   Since her June arrest, Reality’s access to the outside world has been severely circumscribed; she is only allowed to see people for a single hour on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and those people, friends and family, must be on a list of nine that she gives the jail in advance.

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