The defense team for a U.S. Air Force veteran who has been accused of leaking classified information to the media has announced that it intends to call the U.S. government’s former “classification czar” to testify as an expert at trial.
The Leaked Document
Reality Winner, 25, is accused of leaking a document to the media that included specifics on attempts by Russian operatives to hack state election systems in the days leading up to the 2016 presidential election. The document was published in redacted form by The Intercept. The document described two cyberattacks by Russian military intelligence against a company that sells voter registration software and against 122 local election officials. According to The Intercept, the document contained intelligence acquired by the National Security Agency and provided “a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking.”
The Intercept said that the May 5 intelligence report had been submitted anonymously. However, soon after the article was published, the Justice Department announced that the FBI had arrested Winner in connection with the leak. The NSA had performed an audit that showed that six people had printed out the report at issue. Out of the six, Winner was the only one who had been in contact with the media outlet. The Justice Department also said that Winner had confessed to printing out an intelligence file and mailing it to an online news outlet.
Following Winner’s arrest, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein stated, “Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government. . . . People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation.”
Winner, who had been working for a National Security Agency contractor at the time of her arrest, was charged under the Espionage Act. The Espionage Act is meant to prevent military secrets from being stolen from the United States and a conviction carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Winner has already spent one year in jail awaiting trial. The government has argued that Winner is a national security risk and she has been denied bail repeatedly. Winner’s prosecution is the first criminal prosecution for a leak case under the Trump administration.
The Classification Czar
Winner’s defense team has announced that it intends to call J. William Leonard, the U.S. government’s former “classification czar,” as an expert witness at trial. Leonard formerly served as the director of the U.S Information Security Oversight Office. Leonard spent 35 years in government, with many of them assigned to the Defense Department. Leonard was responsible for declassifying information that was wrongly classified during the George W. Bush administration.
Leonard is expected to offer testimony as to whether the document that Winner is accused of leaking was actually classified and whether the leak caused any harm. Leonard’s testimony will also include a review of information from other public sources.
For Winner to be convicted under the Espionage Act, the prosecution must show that the document’s disclosure potentially damaged national defense or could be useful to a foreign enemy. The government must also show that the document was “closely held” and not available to the general public.