When a young National Security Agency contractor was arrested by the FBI at her Augusta home in June 2017, it brought the impassioned debate over leaked documents directly into Georgia.
On Thursday the debate came to a resolution of sorts. Reality Leigh Winner, now 26, was sentenced to five years and three months behind bars for leaking a top-secret government report about Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“I sincerely apologize and take full responsibility for my actions,” the former National Security Agency contractor told Chief U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall in a federal court in Augusta. “In particular, I want to apologize to my family.”
Winner could have faced up to ten years in prison had she not cut a plea deal with prosecutors. It was back in June 2017 that Winner was charged with allegedly leaking a top secret report to the web site The Intercept. Winner’s arrest was announced about an hour after The Intercept reported it had received a top secret government report about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Here’s what else is known about Winner:
» She’s a Texas girl. Winner was raised in Kingsville, Texas, located near Corpus Christi. Her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told The Guardian newspaper Reality has one sister, who is studying for a Ph.D. in pharmacology.
>>She was driven to succeed at a young age. As the AJC’s Jennifer Brett and Johnny Edwards previously reported, Winner “taught herself Arabic while still in high school,” and was a competitive athlete who couldn’t stand to lose ... “’I remember she had a lot of court tantrums when she was losing,’ said Juan Carlos Gonzalez, who was on the H.M. King High School tennis team with Winner.”
» She’s an Air Force veteran who reportedly speaks four languages. Winner spent six years in the Air Force, where she studied languages and worked as a linguist. She reportedly speaks Farsi, Pashto and Dari, according to her mother.
» She’d only been on the Georgia job about four months when she was arrested. After the Air Force, Winner became a contractor at Pluribus International Corp. The company has over 20 locations around the world, including one here at Fort Gordon. Winner was assigned to a U.S. government facility here starting on Feb. 13 and had top-secret security clearance.
» She’s an animal lover and an athlete. A high school tennis player turned Crossfit enthusiast, Winner frequently shared videos of herself working out on her Facebook page, as well as photos from her travels. Her mom says she loves animals; when Reality contacted Billie after her arrest, she reportedly asked her for help on relocating her dog and cat during her absence.
» As “Sara Winners,” she’s actively expressed her views on Twitter. Her mother says Reality wasn’t particularly political and hadn’t ever expressed admiration for Edward Snowden and other leakers. Yet “Sara Winner” acted otherwise on social media, according to this AJC story: “Her feeds show forceful views on climate change, refugees, the war in Syria and her distinct dislike of Trump and his policies. She also showed support for the citizens of one of the nation’s top adversaries.”
» Her stepfather says she’s not the person the world suddenly thinks it knows: The depiction of Winner through social media is not an “an accurate portrayal of my daughter,” Gary Davis, Winner’s stepfather, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. 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.”
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