SAVANNAH, GA. — A Georgia woman who mailed a secret U.S. report to a news organization faces the "longest sentence" ever behind bars for a federal crime involving leaks to the news media, prosecutors said in a court filing.
Former National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner, 26, who was once stationed in Maryland, is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 23 by U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall in Augusta. She pleaded guilty in June to a single count of transmitting national security information when she worked in Augusta as a translator at an NSA facility.
Winner's plea deal with prosecutors calls for imprisonment of five years and three months. But the sentencing judge isn't bound by that agreement. Winner's crime carries a maximum penalty of 10 years.
The Trump administration has made prosecuting government employees who leak sensitive information to the media a high priority, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions pledged to clamp down on leaks last year.
In a court filing Tuesday, federal prosecutors in Winner's case said the 63-month sentence they're recommending is plenty stiff to deter other government workers from leaking sensitive information, even if it could be tougher.
"The government advises the Court that despite the agreed-upon sentence being below the applicable guidelines range, it would be the longest sentence served by a federal defendant for an unauthorized disclosure to the media," the prosecutors wrote.
They cited several prior cases. Former FBI explosives expert Donald Sachtleben was sentenced in 2013 to three years and seven months in prison for leaking secret information, including intelligence he gave to The Associated Press for a story about a U.S. operation in Yemen in 2012.
Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling in 2015 received 3 ½ years in prison for leaking details of a secret mission to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. CIA veteran John Kiriakou received 2 ½ years in prison in 2013 for leaking a covert officer's identity to a reporter.
Winner's defense lawyers noted in their own court filing Wednesday that prior leak prosecutions resulted in less severe penalties than what she has agreed to, "including cases where the factual conduct, and information leaked, was arguably worse."
Prosecutors noted their plea deal with Winner allowed the U.S. government to avoid disclosing secret information in a public courtroom. If Winner stood trial, they said, prosecutors would have been forced to reveal the classified report she leaked and have witnesses explain its contents.
"The Intelligence Community assessed that this further disclosure of the Intelligence Report and explaining its contents would compound the exceptionally grave harm to national security already caused by the defendant," the prosecutors' court filing said.
Authorities have never described the report Winner leaked or identified the news organization that received it.
The Justice Department announced Winner's June 2017 arrest the same day The Intercept published an article on a classified NSA report suggesting Russian hackers attacked a U.S. voting software supplier before the 2016 election. The NSA report was dated May 5, the same as the document Winner had leaked.