Why was Reality Winner Arrested? How Long Was She in Prison?

Image Credit: 60 Minutes/Youtube

Starring Sydney Sweeney in the lead role, HBO’s ‘Reality’ follows the true story of the titular character. The film takes place over a couple of hours in one location where Reality Winner is interrogated by two FBI agents. While baffled by their sudden presence, she tries to keep calm and understand what they want from her. The agents try to be as friendly and trustworthy as possible; however, as they start asking questions about something that Reality did, which might have grave consequences, things get tense.

The movie builds the suspense by keeping the audience in the dark about what Reality did by having her evade the questions for as long as possible and the FBI officers slowly skirting around the question to get her to confess. If you want to know more about why she was arrested and why she went to prison, here’s what you should know.

The FBI’s Investigation into Winner

After working as a linguist in the U.S. Air Force and receiving a Commendation Medal, Reality Winner was honorably discharged in 2016. To put her security clearances to good use, she took a job for Pluribus International, which had her working a desk job at Fort Gordon, Georgia. In 2017, 25-year-old Winner printed a classified document that continued detailed information about the interference of Russian intelligence in the 2016 U.S Presidential elections.

It talked about how the Russian military “executed cyber espionage” against “122 local government organizations” “targeting officials involved in the management of voter registration systems.” Winner knew she was handling something not for everyone’s eyes, but she “had pledged service to the American people, and at that point, it felt like they were being led astray.” So, she smuggled the document out of the facility and mailed it to The Intercept.

When the news outlet received it, they tried to verify the document. Instead of making a copy, the reporter took the original print that Winner had sent to the U.S. government. When the authorities found out that such a document had been leaked, they took quick action, and the investigation into the identity of the leaker began. It was found that six people had printed that document, out of which only one of them had any prior contact with The Intercept: Reality Winner. She had contacted the outlet using her work email.

On June 3, 2017, FBI agents Wally Taylor and Justin Garrick showed up at Winner’s house with a team to search her house. She was interrogated over the next few hours while the other officers went through everything in her house. The interrogation ended with Winner confessing to leaking the document. In an affidavit submitted by Special Agent Garrick, it is revealed that she “admitted intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue despite having a ‘need to know’ and with the knowledge that the intelligence report was classified.

Winner further admitted removing the classified intelligence reporting from her office space, retaining it, and mailing it from Augusta, Georgia, to the News Outlet, which she knew was not authorized to receive or possess the documents. Winner further acknowledged that she was aware of the contents of the intelligence reporting and that she knew the contents of the reporting could be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign nation.”

Reality Winner’s Time in Federal Prison

Reality Winner pled guilty to “a single felony count of unauthorized transmission of national defense information.” In 2018, she was sentenced to five years and three months. This is the longest prison sentence received by an individual found guilty of releasing classified information to media without authorization. She spent the next three years in a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

She was released in June 2021 and sent to a transitional facility. The news of her release was announced by her lawyer in a social media post, which said: “I am thrilled to announce that Reality Winner has been released from prison. She is still in custody in the residential reentry process, but we are relieved at hopeful.” Her early release was attributed to “exemplary behavior while incarcerated.” Following this, she was released on probation until November 2024.

Winner moved back to her hometown of Kingsville. Her probation prohibits her from traveling without prior permission, enforced night curfews, and mandatory drug tests every two weeks, among other things. Talking about her sentence, Winner confessed that the situation could have been different if she had gone through the proper channels for the leak. “I have apologized, and I’m currently serving that sentence. However, I was treated very harshly, and I don’t wish that on anybody,” she said.

Winner cannot appeal her conviction because she pled guilty. However, her lawyer, Alison Grinter, and other supports want to clear her name for good. “We are going to continue to fight for a full pardon, which is, really, as far as I am concerned, the only thing that will do,” Grinter said.

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