The young Augusta woman with the odd name of Reality Leigh Winner openly hated this nation and its president. So how did someone with such anti-American leanings find herself in a position to steal national secrets and then leak them?
And while the allegations against Ms. Winner are serious enough, the real fear is that there may be hundreds if not thousands of other private contractors like Ms. Winner who are working for the government that have access to top-secret documents and may one day decide to steal and leak them, putting our nation in potential risk.
What is being done to screen out potential traitors and stop them from getting these sensitive jobs? Obviously, in the case of Ms. Winner, an Air Force veteran, it’s not enough. A Top Secret security clearance used to mean something. What happened? How can it be fixed?
The 25-year-old woman moved to Augusta from Texas and took a job in February with Pluribus International Corporation at a U.S. government facility. She’s accused of giving the news site, The Intercept, a top-secret National Security Agency report about Russia’s interference with the 2016 presidential election. Ms. Winner had been working at the company almost four months.
To some extent, you can’t blame Ms. Winner for thinking she could violate the nation’s rules on protecting its secrets and get away with it. After all, a former Secretary of State and First Lady escaped prosecution for her reckless and cavalier treatment of sensitive documents, and perhaps Ms. Winner believed she would also get a free pass if she got caught.
Instead, the young woman who had laid bare her liberal political views and raw emotion she felt over the election of Donald Trump as president is looking at serving 10 years in prison if convicted under the Espionage Act.
Ms. Winner’s arrest marks the first criminal leak case under President Trump. Court documents say she admitted to printing out and mailing top secret documents to an undisclosed media outlet. Indeed, for someone who set out to break the law, she was a lousy at the spy game. She left more tracks than a herd of heavy-footed cattle.
Like many millennials, Ms. Winner lived out her life on social media and seemed to keep few secrets. While that’s hardly a crime, it should have caused alarms to go off in places where workers are cleared to do sensitive contract work for the U.S. government. On Facebook and Instagram, Ms. Winner documented her pets, her travels to Belize and to her adopted home of Baltimore, her hours in the gym, vegan meals and concerts. That’s tame stuff.
But on a Twitter account she appeared to lose control. She laid bare her liberal political views and the anger she felt over the election of Donald Trump as president. Tweeting at Trump after comments he made about refugees being a danger, Ms. Winner wrote: “the most dangerous entry to this country was the orange fascist we let into the white house (sic).” She also joked about burning down the White House, and tweeted about her cat, climate change and praise for Edward Snowden.
She was so bad at keeping her own actions secret that it took only a few days before she was arrested at her Augusta home after the leak was discovered.
News of Ms. Winner’s arrest came an hour after the Intercept published a story, along with a National Security Agency document dated May 5, that alleged Russian government hackers targeted 122 local election officials a few days before last November’s election. The Intercept report said there was no evidence to suggest the hackers succeeded in compromising voting machines or vote tabulations.
By some accounts, Ms. Winner was an intelligent person who joined the military right out of high school. She was able to learn and speak Arabic and Farsi and worked as a linguist for the Air Force. But book smarts don’t equate to common sense or good judgment, or appreciation for America and what it stands for.
Her stepfather argued for mercy, saying Ms. Winner served her country with distinction. “She’s a veteran, six years’ service of the Air Force,” he said. “She received commendations during that time. She’s just a passionate young woman who probably made some mistakes.”
No, the evidence suggests that she’s a traitor. And while she may be messed up in the head and hopelessly naïve and perhaps even brainwashed to some extent, none of that excuses stealing top-secret material and violating this nation’s trust.
What makes her think that she knows what’s best for the country or that her political views trump national security and are superior to everyone else’s views, including those of her managers?
No this mixed-up young woman should be prosecuted. If found guilty, she should go to prison. The nation must show it is serious about keeping its secrets. It also must do a better job of rooting out others who are like Reality Winner who are embedded in our nation’s security and intelligence communities. The fact that she could burrow so deeply into this system like a mole and remain undetected, even after her sloppy behavior, is frightening.
That doesn’t mean that anyone who disagrees with America’s leaders can’t work for the government or be a loyal American citizen. Instead, it means realizing that America’s enemies are working overtime to destroy this country from the outside.
It means this nation must work harder at keeping untrustworthy, double-dealing political partisans away from places where they could undermine this nation from within. A top secret security clearance must mean exactly that. It must be earned, not treated like something you might find in the bottom of a Cracker Jacks box.