Whistleblower of the Week: Reality Leigh Winner, Imprisoned and Gagged

Reality Winner

Reality Leigh Winner (inmate number 22056-021) is currently incarcerated at the Carswell Federal Medical Center, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, Texas, 76127. She is an Air Force veteran, and later, became a federal NSA contractor. Winner disclosed to the Intercept, a news outlet, that Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before the presidential election of 2016.

Winner was charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917, 18 U.S.C. S793(e), and was sentenced to 63 months in prison, with three years of supervised release. She received the harshest sentence of any American National Security whistleblower. Under the sentencing, she is not allowed to communicate with the media, nor accept any monies or compensation from her whistleblowing activities. These harsh conditions are placed on Reality for life, but they are extended to her family and friends. Since Reality is imprisoned and gagged, I talked to her mother, Billie J. Winner-Davis.

Billie J. Winner-Davis and her husband, Ronald, reside in Texas. Reality was born in Texas, and her dad named her Reality because he “wanted a real winner.” Reality was raised in a small town, was a “brilliant student, and never got into trouble.” She had curly blond hair, big blue eyes, and was a “strong-willed child with a temper.” Although Reality suffered through a divorce when she was seven, she quickly bonded with her step-father, who brought three children into the marriage. Reality was athletic, loved soccer, and went to Kingsville, Texas High School, where she graduated at the top of her class.

Reality was offered a scholarship at Texas A&M but turned it down because she “wanted to live her life, and was tired of being in school.” Her step-brother was a linguist in the military, and Reality followed him, becoming a Senior Airman, and was stationed at Lackland AFB in 2010. She went to language school (Defense Language Institute ) at the Presidio of Monterey, Monterey, California, resulting in a Middle East Linguist designation. Reality was advised she was the “best analyst” at language school.

Reality did not want to re-enlist, but her dream was to go to Afghanistan with a Non-governmental organization (NGO). She wanted to help the people of Afghanistan but settled for a job as Interpreter Analyst at the National Security Agency (NSA), in Augusta, Georgia. She moved to Georgia in January of 2017 and started her job in February. Every Sunday, Reality would call her mother and tell her about teaching yoga, and her work on climate change and the Dakota pipeline. Reality was an avid athlete and did CrossFit workouts. She fostered a dog and lived sparsely in a living space that contained only a couch, bed, little desk, and Persian rugs.

When Reality started working at the U.S. Government facility in February of 2017, she was 25 years old. She cared about her country and wanted to defend it. Doing what was right no matter the cost, and having integrity were two of her foundations. When she saw a foreign adversary attacking the United States voting system, she was compelled to act. Around May 9, 2017, Winner printed out a classified intelligence report detailing an attempt by Russian intelligence to access American election infrastructure through a private software company.

Individuals like Reality know that they will be criticized for not following the “normal” practices for making disclosures in their agencies. Still, they also see a legion of whistleblowers who followed the regulatory route and were destroyed. Speaking truth to power does not have a happy ending for these whistleblowers, as they find those who clamor for truth do not like the taste of it once it is served to them.

On June 1, 2017, the FBI was notified that a media outlet had possession of a classified document, the same one Reality had removed a few weeks earlier. On June 3, The FBI spoke to Reality at her home, and Reality advised she was the individual who took the document. Reality called her father and asked that he advise her mother. Shortly afterward, she was booked into jail. Billy Winner-Davis was both terrified and proud of her daughter after the arrest.

The Administration had said that Russian interference was a hoax, and Reality became a whistleblower because the truth was out there, hidden from America, with a Government that lied. Reality pled guilty, noting that her motive was only to release the truth. On June 26, 2018, Reality Winner accepted a plea agreement for a single charge of espionage, with her plea decision heavily influenced by the Espionage Act, where no defense can be had for disclosures made in the public interest.

Billy Winner-Davis said that she speaks to Reality every day if she can, within a five-minute window. Reality spends her time in prayer and has not been able to work out or attend classes since March. Her worst fear, catching Coronavirus, has occurred in the last week. She cannot interact with any media, and her mail and visits are closely monitored. Attempts to set up a Go Fund Me account were not allowed, and monies raised had to be given back to donors and eventually disbursed to the Government. Billy Winner-Davis has been advised that neither she, family, friends, or representatives can raise funds for Reality.

Attempts by Billy Winner-Davis to be rehired at her job of almost 27 years with the State of Texas, was turned down because she was advised she “could not be trusted.” Attempts at finding other jobs were discouraging because she received no callbacks. There was a strain on relationships with family and neighbors. Billy eventually found a job in a jail, where she wanted to experience what Reality was living. Attempts to get the attention of politicians have been useless, as none have responded to her letters. Attempts at a compassionate release did not get a hearing. To be a family member of a whistleblower is difficult, and to watch your whistleblower go through a punitive, dehumanizing experience is painful.

Billy Winner-Davis and her husband have a small cabin purchased for Reality when she gets out of prison in December of 2023. She hopes Reality can find some peace there. For now, Reality only has a website, standwithreality.org because the Government has taken everything else away and left her imprisoned and gagged.

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