Whether or not Reality Winner is guilty of a felony offense under the Espionage and Censorship Act remains to be seen, although the 25-year-old is seen as enough of a flight risk that she is being held without bail. Ms. Winner, an Air Force veteran and recipient of an Air Force Commendation Medal, is accused of leaking details of a classified NSA memo to the website The Intercept, which served as the basis for an article exposing a 2016 Russian cyberattack on a U.S. voting machine company. According to the government, Ms. Winner printed out a hard copy of the intel report and later mailed it to The Intercept, who proceeded to contact the NSA for comment on their story.
Ms. Winner is described as a patriot and “just a normal person” by her family and friends. Her social media accounts were largely focused on attacking Donald Trump, something that certainly isn’t very out of the ordinary these days, although prior to his election she seems to have not been particularly political. Surely as a former member of the Air Force, she was aware of the illegality of her actions and probable penalties if discovered. So why would this young patriot risk her career and her very freedom to leak a classified memo to an online platform that exists mainly because of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, that was investigated by President Obama’s FBI, and that Ms. Winner was actually barred from reading as late as 2016 as a member of the U.S. military? One scary possibility is that Ms. Winner’s friends and family are not that far off the mark in their descriptions of her: it’s entirely possible that she is a “patriot” and a normal person of her generation. It’s also possible that there are millions more like her.
Ms. Winner was born in December of 1991, a Millennial by any definition. The voting habits of her generation have been much dissected and are in any event not of much use; the political party one chooses to vote for isn’t an indication one is willing to leak classified information merely because of the outcome of an election. Ms. Winner is not a “spy” in any normal sense of the word. She wasn’t turned by a foreign government or paid off, at least as far as we know. She doesn’t even seem to have been a new adherent of any particular anti-American ideology: she stole a document that seemed to show some evidence that a cyberattack could have been at least somewhat responsible for a political candidate she obviously opposed winning an election, and she seems to have taken few pains to hide it. The leaked document didn’t even contain any evidence the Russians were able to influence or change a single vote on a single voting machine. She confessed almost immediately. That she did serve her country, apparently honorably, and still may have committed this crime without any rhyme or reason may mean that she is the tip of a very worrisome iceberg.
The iceberg hasn’t gone unnoticed by the people driving the boat, and most polls do show Millennials don’t trust the government. But distrust of the government is as American as apple pie. Reality Winner didn’t (allegedly) leak classified information because she distrusted the government, she leaked it because she was mad that an election didn’t go her way. She didn’t even leak intelligence that proved her right. (Whatever your opinion on Edward Snowden, at least the PRISM program actually existed.) She did this before Donald Trump even had a chance to become the “orange fascist” she accused him of being on Twitter. She did it, essentially, to “Save America.”
This is the woman described as a patriot, a normal person. In her mind she undoubtedly was acting in a patriotic manner, leaking information that would lead to the downfall of the hateful misogynistic racist in the White House. Her personal feelings about one man’s perceived moral failings were enough to make her forget her oath, although ultimately the leak seems to have been mostly pointless and stupid. Plenty of young men and women serve our country honorably, and plenty more undoubtedly understand patriotism, that allegiance is owed to our system of government, not to the people temporarily running it, and that if you disagree with the outcome of an election, it doesn’t void the rule of law. Let’s just hope the rest of that iceberg doesn’t consist of Reality Winners, a generation of government officials pointlessly and stupidly flouting the law and unthinkingly harming the country based merely on their own personal feelings for politicians. Let’s hope they’re smart enough to save the moral indignation for the actions the government actually takes, where it belongs.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.