Snowden Comes To Defense Of Jailed NSA Contractor Reality Winner

NSA contractor Reality Leigh Winner, has been charged by the Justice Department for sending classified material to The Intercept. (Photo: Instagram)

NSA contractor Reality Leigh Winner, has been charged by the Justice Department for sending classified material to The Intercept. (Photo: Instagram)

A day after her arrest was announced publicly by the U.S. Justice Department, Reality Winner, the 25-year-old alleged source of a leaked National Security Agency document detailing Russian hacking efforts, has found a vocal ally in the world’s best known whistleblower of the contemporary era: Edward Snowden.

Snowden, who first made headlines around the world in 2013 when he went public as the source of a massive trove of NSA documents detailing the agency’s global “collect-it-all” surveillance dragnet, released a statement Tuesday evening saying that while much remains unknown about the details of the case, the Justice Department’s decision to file charges under the ‘Espionage Act’ is deeply troubling.

“This often-condemned law,” he explained, “provides no space to distinguish the extraordinary disclosure of inappropriately classified information in the public interest—whistleblowing—from the malicious disclosure of secrets to foreign governments by those motivated by a specific intent to harm to their countrymen.

Snowden further argues that Winner should be released on bail pending her trial and said that for the government to hold any “citizen incommunicado and indefinitely while awaiting trial for the alleged crime of serving as a journalistic source should outrage” anyone concerned about the free press, whistleblower protections, or the public’s right to know.

Released on the website of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a journalism advocacy group for which Snowden serves as board president, his statement follows in full:

The Justice Department released an indictment of twenty five year-old NSA contractor Reality Winner yesterday, just a few hours after the Intercept posted a story based on a top secret document that described how the NSA believes Russian actors tried to hack into US voting infrastructure. Much is unknown, as the public is made to depend upon the potentially unreliable claims of government prosecutors, while Winner is held in jail without any contact with the public.


Related: Reality Winner Arrest Tied To Same Reporters Behind CIA Whistleblower Prosecution


What we do know is clear: Winner is accused of serving as a journalistic source for a leading American news outlet about a matter of critical public importance. For this act, she has been charged with violating the Espionage Act—a World War I era law meant for spies—which explicitly forbids the jury from hearing why the defendant acted, and bars them from deciding whether the outcome was to the public’s benefit. This often-condemned law provides no space to distinguish the extraordinary disclosure of inappropriately classified information in the public interest—whistleblowing—from the malicious disclosure of secrets to foreign governments by those motivated by a specific intent to harm to their countrymen.

The prosecution of any journalistic source without due consideration by the jury as to the harm or benefit of the journalistic activity is a fundamental threat to the free press. As long as a law like this remains on the books in a country that values fair trials, it must be resisted.

No matter one’s opinions on the propriety of the charges against her, we should all agree Winner should be released on bail pending trial. Even if you take all the government allegations as true, it’s clear she is neither a threat to public safety nor a flight risk. To hold a citizen incommunicado and indefinitely while awaiting trial for the alleged crime of serving as a journalistic source should outrage us all.


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