(Reuters) - A federal judge sentenced former U.S. intelligence contractor Reality Winner on Thursday to more than five years in prison after she admitted leaking to a media outlet a top secret report on Russian interference in U.S. elections, her attorney said.
Winner, 26, who has already spent nearly two years in jail, pleaded guilty in June to passing the National Security Agency report to The Intercept in 2016. She will receive credit for the time she spent in pre-trial confinement, said one of her attorneys, Titus Nichols.
During a hearing in Winner’s hometown of Augusta, Georgia, Judge James Hall approved her lawyers’ request for a 63-month sentence followed by three years of supervised release, Nichols said. It was the longest sentence ever given to someone for illegally disclosing government information, according to Nichols.
“The sentence and accompanying plea agreement both reflect that Reality recognises that actions have consequences, and that she has learned from her mistake and is prepared to accept the consequences of her actions,” Winner’s attorneys said in a statement.
Judge Hall also agreed to let Winner be transferred to a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, where she could receive medical services and be closer to her family.
Federal prosecutors said her sentence of more than five years was appropriate because Winner betrayed the trust of her colleagues and her country.
“Make no mistake: THIS WAS NOT A VICTIMLESS CRIME,” U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine said in a statement. “Winner’s purposeful violation put our nation’s security at risk... She was the quintessential example of an insider threat.”
Winner had been working with Pluribus International Corp, a company that provides analytical services for U.S. defence and intelligence agencies.
The NSA document she gave the news outlet contained technical details on what it said were Russian attempts to hack election officials in the United States and a voting-machine company before the November 2016 presidential election, two U.S. officials with knowledge of the case have said.
Winner admitted to intentionally printing a copy of the intelligence report in her office and mailing it to the news outlet. She was indicted on a single federal count of wilful retention and transmission of national defence information, a felony under the Espionage and Censorship Act that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, court documents showed.
Betsy Reed, editor in chief of The Intercept, said in a statement that Winner should be honoured, and that her sentencing and other prosecutions of whistleblowers were attacks on freedom of speech and of the press.
“Instead of being recognised as a conscience-driven whistleblower whose disclosure helped protect U.S. elections, Winner was prosecuted with vicious resolve by the Justice Department under the Espionage Act,” Reed said.
A federal judge had ordered that Winner be held without bond after prosecutors said she posed a flight risk and public danger, citing what they called “disturbing” comments in her notebook.
In one section Winner wrote: “I want to burn the White House down,” according to prosecutors, who said investigators also found the names of three Islamic extremists known to federal authorities listed in her notebook.
Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Dan Grebler