Reality Winner, the National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who was sentenced to 63 months imprisonment for unauthorized sharing of national defense information, sent a petition for clemency to the White House in mid-February. There has been no public response to the request, and given the timing, it does not appear the President will grant clemency any time soon. Winner was not included in the list of those who received a pardon or clemency ordered via Executive Grants of Clemency on February 18.

Winner is currently one of the 1,642 female offenders incarcerated at FMC Carswell, located in Fort Worth, TX. The prison is near her family. Her release date is approximately 20 months from today, December 30, 2021.

Winner pleads guilty and requests 63 months

While there is a great deal of social network misinformation concerning the guilt of Winner, the fact remains she pleaded guilty to the charges which resulted in her incarceration. Her clemency petition reiterates this fact.

Some argue, indeed this writer noted, her sentence negotiated by her lawyers with the Department of Justice in the face of the espionage statutes used to in the context of unauthorized disclosure seemed harsh. Her lawyers went into the negotiations with Winner looking at a potential of 120 months and $250,000 in fines.

With 10 years of incarceration looking Winner in the eye, her attorneys no doubt thought 63 months was a screaming good deal.

Yet it wasn’t.

As noted in Reality Winner Sentence – Blame Her Legal Team, Not the Government three examples were readily available where unauthorized sharing of classified information netted the offender significantly less jail time.

Furthermore, since Winner’s incarceration, we have seen additional sentences for unauthorized disclosures of national security information which have netted the guilty jail sentences less than the 63 months negotiated for Winner.

Winner’s crime

Winner used her insider access to the sensitive NSA online network to expose NSA Top Secret/SCI information to The Intercept. Upon publication by The Intercept, the offensive cyber operations of the NSA which were focused on penetrating, understanding and obtaining additional insight into the Russian government interference into the U.S. elections were compromised.

To remind, she took classified information, printed it out, shoved it into her pantyhose and secreted the document out of the building. She went home and then mailed the document to The Intercept. The online media outlet published the information on June 5, 2017, highlighting information which the government knew about the MO used by the Russians to interfere in the U.S. elections.

The publication believed then, and no doubt believes now, their sharing this information was in the public interest, as it showed the Russians were interfering with the U.S. 2016 elections. Winner is no whistleblower. The Intercept’s actions were a disservice to the U.S.

The Intercept did show that the U.S. intelligence community had become aware of Russia’s actions and were operationally (and in secret) attempting to thwart them.

What the online media outlet did not understand, and much of the public at large has stepped over, is that with one act, the U.S. intelligence community was knocked out of the proverbial saddle, and had to restart their efforts to counter Russia’s interference in the U.S. election process. While with that same act, Russia was put on alert and were working as feverishly to adjust their MO to avoid U.S. intelligence efforts to stop Russian intelligence.

Winner’s clemency appeal

Winner’s petition for clemency, which she submitted on February 12, highlights how the President has tweeted that her sentence is disproportionate to the crime. In addition, she also highlights how her sentence is, as we note above, greater than others guilty of the same crime.

Winner continues how she has been a model prisoner, has served as a fitness trainer within the incarcerated community, and has lived within the prison system without any infractions.

She continues how her current setting at FMC Carswell does not permit her access to medical treatment for depression, anxiety and bulimia beyond being given medication – i.e., no therapy is available to deal with her mental illness or assist in providing coping mechanisms.

Should Winner be given clemency?

While Winner’s actions are making it harder for the intelligence community to address Russian interference in the United States’ election process, it is clear that the intelligence community is having success. In addition, the 30 months Winner has served is greater than the time served by CIA officers Jeffrey Sterling and John Kiriakou, both of whom shared classified information with the media.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of