On November 10, 2020, my heart soared with hope while reading the editorial on the introduction of the Protect Brave Whistleblowers Act (H.R.8452) proposed by Representative Tulsi Gabbard September 30, 2020. The editorial outlined that the proposed bill would reform the antiquated Espionage Act of 1917 and ensure that brave whistleblowers, like Reality Winner, Daniel Hale, Edward Snowden and others, would not be victimized or persecuted by an outdated law meant to charge foreign spies.
As the mother of Reality Leigh Winner, I am very much in favor of a bill that would reform the use of the Espionage Act and stop its use for persecuting Americans whose intentions were to inform and protect American citizens. I have said from the beginning that the government’s use of the Espionage Act against my daughter, Reality Winner, was the worst abuse of power, and why I cannot forgive my country.
The fact that my daughter has been left out of the discussions and was not directly mentioned by Rep. Gabbard is also something that I cannot understand and forgive at this moment in time. From the beginning, my daughter Reality Leigh Winner has been widely ignored by those in power, those who could have helped her, those who could still help her now. Had these very same leaders who claim to support a bill to stop persecuting American whistleblowers as foreign spies come to my daughter’s aid over 3 years ago, I believe her outcome would have been drastically different. If they were to speak up for her now, they could actually make a difference, yet they still refuse to do so.
My daughter Reality Leigh Winner is a decorated US Air Force Veteran, who worked in intelligence and was granted top secret security clearance. She dedicated 6 years to the Air Force, where she worked at the NSA in Fort Meade and Fort Gordon and aided in identifying and removing approximately 900 enemy targets. Her service was recognized through a medal of commendation prior to her honorable discharge in December 2016.
After her service in the military, my daughter was recruited and accepted a job as a contractor for a private agency. It was during this employment at the NSA in Augusta, GA, that she made the decision to risk everything and provide the truth to the American public about Russian attacks on our voting systems during the 2016 election. In May 2017 Reality Winner mailed a document anonymously to a media outlet, The Intercept, containing intelligence summaries and actual proof of what the Russians did to attempt access to the voting systems in 21 states. The information in the document was printed and released on the very same date as her arrest detailed an attack by a foreign agency on our election, and had not even been made available to the entities at risk. This should have been the focus, however, all the media and leaders in our country could talk about on that fateful day was the charge of espionage – branding her a traitor and a spy and making her an enemy of the people. The administration paraded Reality out to the world and beamed with pride because they had caught a leaker and they planned to make an example of her for all others who considered blowing the whistle.
For revealing the proof of a foreign attack on our election systems to the public, my daughter Reality Winner was charged with espionage. She was arrested after an FBI interrogation at her home in Georgia violated her Miranda Rights, thrown into a rural Georgia county jail, denied bail 4 times, and bullied into accepting a plea deal that would award her the longest-ever prison sentence and conditions for the rest of her life. She spent 1 year and 83 days in a leaking jail dorm, denied adequate food, medical care, sunlight, and safety. She was assaulted and injured, mocked, and mistreated. She was threatened with 10 years prison time for her crime, gagged and hidden away, and forced to accept their deal, because she had no allies or support in our government. No trial, no chance of prevailing due to the government’s use of the Espionage Act against her. Tulsi Gabbard and all of the Senate Intelligence Committee members know this. They know about her leak and they know how valuable the information was to the American people and the states who were targeted. The Senate Intelligence Committee, a GOP led panel later revealed, after years of investigation that the 2016 Russian operation targeted election systems in all 50 states, that hackers had the ability to change key data in Illinois, and that, in the words of the New York Times, this was “an effort more far-reaching than previously acknowledged and one largely undetected by the states and federal officials at the time.” That lack of either acknowledgment or detection is exactly the reason that Reality Winner risked everything to expose the truth.
As I write this, my daughter is still imprisoned in a maximum-security prison in Fort Worth, Texas. She has been denied compassionate release and actually contracted COVID-19 in July. A prison guard congratulated her on her positive COVID-19 test, and she was provided Tylenol for her symptoms. She continues to deal with lockdown conditions and living in filth with murderers and other criminals. Her suffering goes on daily.
Where is the support for Reality Winner? Where is it that her name has been spoken by Tulsi Gabbard and any other congressional representative or senator when they publicly support our nation’s brave whistleblowers? Why is it that thousands of Americans (to include Edward Snowden) have expressed support and signed petitions, and that numerous groups and agencies have verbalized and documented their support for Reality and her release from prison, yet none of our congressional leaders will stand up for her?
This Protect Brave Whistleblowers Act is a step in the right direction. I support it, probably more than Ms. Gabbard, having gone through what no parent in America should go through. I pray that no other Patriot or family has to endure what Reality Winner and our family has, and I think a bill like this is needed to prevent that. I just wish this bill would include Reality Winner and other lesser-known whistleblowers and that those who have declared themselves to be supportive of whistleblowers would act like they mean it. For all whistleblowers.