Profile of Whistleblower Reality Winner

Reality Winner (and her name is explained in the profile) is the latest example in how the corporate U.S. government treats its national security whistleblowers. The 1917 Espionage Act is truly among the worst parts of U.S. law.

Reality Winner would have been making the best money of her life at Pluribus, but she had never been particularly interested in what money can buy. She rented, sight unseen, an 800-square-foot house in a part of Augusta the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls “hardscrabble” and her ex-boyfriend calls “blighted”; her neighbors parked their cars on brown, patchy lawns. (“I did not look at a map when I signed the lease,” she’d later tell the FBI, “but I’m well armed.”) The rooms were filled with workout equipment, sneakers, and sticky notes on which were scrawled workout regimes (“Bench 5×5, Back Squat 5×5”) but also stray thoughts about issues with which she was preoccupied (“Peace-making is less of a rational-economic model of dividing resources and territory fairly”; “Further research: Deserts versus rainforest”). Months later, when her mother walked me through the house, she’d point to Reality’s room and say, “The world’s biggest terrorist has a Pikachu bedspread.”

Reality was searched for thumb drives and cell phones every morning as she walked into the Whitelaw Building; her lunch, security guards noted as they pawed through it, was very healthy. She translated Farsi in documents relating to Iran’s aerospace program, work for which she had no particular affinity and which seems to have bored her. For those mornings when she did not feel like reading more documents about Iran’s aerospace program, she evidently had access to documents well outside her area of expertise. She had access, for example, to a five-page classified report detailing a Russian attempt to access American election infrastructure through a private software company. This would be, ultimately, the document she leaked. According to the analysis in the report, Russian intelligence sent phishing emails to the employees of a company that provides election support to eight states. After obtaining log-in credentials, the Russians sent emails infected with malware to over 100 election officials, days before the election, from what looked like the software company’s address.