One of the more unusual white-collar crimes that has become a frequent news topic is that of espionage, particularly as it relates to various leaks from the White House, National Security Administration (NSA) and other federal organizations.
Recently, Reality Winner accepted a plea bargain with federal prosecutors after being accused of using her position with the NSA to leak classified documents to a news organization last year. Her charges came under provisions of the Espionage Act, and she is alleged to have leaked documents describing the efforts expended by the Russians to affect American elections and its electoral system. According to the records, the contractor and Air Force veteran printed out a classified, top-secret document and mailed it to an online news outlet, who broke the story around the same time as the leak.
Although the deal has not yet been approved of by the court, she has agreed to serve 5 years and 3 months in prison, with three years of supervised release after, as well as agreeing to never leak classified documents again. Ms. Winner is the first person who is accused of leaking classified information who is also charged with a crime under the current administration.
The provision under the Espionage Act that she is accused of violating is 18 U.S.C §793(e) which states, “whoever having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document … or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates, delivers, transmits, or causes to be communicated, delivered or transmitted… to any person not entitled to receive it…” shall be fined or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.
The definition of what information is classified stems from Executive Order 13526, which states that information may be classified it is owned, produced by or for, or under the control of the U.S. government, falls within one or more of the Top Secret, Secret, and Confidential categories, and is classified by an original classification authority who determines that the unauthorized disclosure of said information could reasonably be expected to result in damage to the national security.
Reality Winner began working with Pluribus, an NSA contractor that works with defense, security, and intelligence sectors and offers multiple services, including translations. She had top-secret clearance. Winner became identified as the source of the leak when officials requested a copy of the document, which showed creases and ‘microdots’ that revealed the source printer. She has been jailed without bond for over a year. The plea means that the government is likely to avoid a complex trial that was scheduled for October.
This is not the first time a leaker has been prosecuted, though. During the Obama administration, around 10 leak-related prosecutions went forward – almost twice as many as prosecutions brought under any other previous administration, combined. And FBI agent Terry Albury pleaded guilty in April this year for leaks which occurred during Mr. Trump’s presidency. James Wolfe, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staff member has also been arrested for lying to the FBI about the nature and extent of his contacts with reporters, and Joshua A. Schulte, a former CIA software engineer, has also been charged with violations of the Espionage Act.