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Last weekend, the FBI arrested an employee of a corporation in Augusta, Georgia, that had a contract with the National Security Agency and charged her with espionage. Espionage occurs when someone who has been entrusted to safeguard state secrets fails to do so. In this case, the government alleges that the person to whom state secrets had been entrusted is 25-year-old Reality Leigh Winner, who had a top-secret national security clearance.

The government claims that Winner downloaded and printed a top-secret NSA report, removed the printed version of the report from her employer’s premises, and then mailed it to The Intercept, a highly regarded international media outlet that exposes government wrongdoing.

The government says it learned of this when folks from The Intercept called the NSA and told agents what they had received and what they planned to publish. After hearing agents describe the potential harm to their work if the full report were to be released, The Intercept agreed to redact certain portions, though it published the bulk of the report.

The report is startling, as it reveals that the NSA discovered that Russian hackers in late October and early November 2016 planted cookies (attractive, uniquely tailored links) into the websites of 122 American city and county clerks responsible for counting ballots in the presidential election. This means that if any employee of those clerks’ offices clicked onto any cookie, the hackers had access to — and thus the ability to interfere with — the tabulation of votes. This NSA report is at sharp odds with the denials of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election made last year by President Barack Obama and made last week by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and it is profoundly more detailed and alarming than anything the federal government has thus far revealed.

Doesn’t the American public have the right to know what the Russians did in the election? Is it necessarily criminal to make such things public? Isn’t the NSA supposed to protect us from foreign hackers who are attempting to interfere with the core American electoral process — the election of the president — and not keep us in the dark if it fails to do so?

Here is the back story.

I have argued since 2013, when we first learned from the Edward Snowden revelations that the NSA has gathered too much data about too many innocent people since 2005, that it does so in violation of the Constitution and federal law and that it suffers from information overload — meaning it has more raw data than it has resources to examine in a timely and effective manner.


The result of all this is liberty lost — as innocents have their privacy invaded and, as we know, sometimes even revealed to the public for political purposes — and our safety compromised, since the NSA repeatedly discovers that it had all relevant communications of killers before the killings but does not connect the dots until too late, as in Boston, San Bernardino and Orlando; and the same can be said for our British partners in Manchester and London during the past two weeks.

The stated purpose of all this suspicionless bulk spying on all of us all the time is to keep us safe. Yet we know that the NSA has failed at that, and we know from a recent judicial condemnation of the NSA that it has failed to protect our liberties. Now we know that it has failed to protect our presidential election.

Is it a crime to reveal what the FBI says Winner revealed? In a word, yes. Yet I argue for understanding the full picture here. If she did as the FBI alleges, she committed a violation of federal law. However, it appears she did not do so for petty, political, financial or venal reasons; rather, she may have done so for the American people to know that the spies who have failed us would keep us ignorant and vulnerable.

Can The Intercept be prosecuted for revealing top-secret material to the public? In a word, no. The Supreme Court made clear in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971 that a media entity may freely publish matters that are material to the public interest, notwithstanding the source of the matters or the behavior of the source that delivered the matters to it. This is grounded in the essence of personal liberty in a free society. In matters of material interest to the public, the public’s right to know what the government is doing or has failed to do constitutionally trumps the government’s right to secrecy.

Where does all this leave us? Reality Winner may very well be a patriot who risked her career and freedom to warn the American public of what the government was afraid to acknowledge — that mass spying keeps us neither safe nor free. No doubt the government doesn’t see it that way. This case has embarrassed the government, and she will most likely be prosecuted. I hope the judge in her case lets her lawyers argue that because we live in perilous times, the people are entitled to know what the government does and fails to do in our names to address the peril so we can change the government when it fails.

The remedy for the revelation of truth should consist in the truth’s ability to flourish in the marketplace of ideas rather than in the punishment of the revealer. The core principle of democracy is that the people have consented to the government. When the government keeps vital secrets from us — particularly secrets that embarrass it, secrets that cause us to view it differently, secrets of failure — we end up with a government that we do not know or trust. And one that ultimately lacks our consent.

Copyright 2017 Andrew P. Napolitano. Distributed by

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Government Surveillance, NSA 
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  1. TWS says:

    There are people in prison right now for far less than this. Breaking the law for whatever reason means she has to pay the price. She knew that was the penalty when she did it. If someone else had been wrongly convicted for her crime would she have stepped forward and took the penalty? Nothing about her suggests she thinks she did anything wrong.

    That said everything Clinton did was worse and she’s getting a pass so I guess what the heck, let her go on msnbc and be a hero. Just as long as the guys who accidentally lost classified material get their lives, jobs, reputations back first.

  2. pjkkerr says:

    The technical aspects of this story puzzle me. Cookies are supposed to be completely safe on your computer and are not things you click on anyway. Is this not so?

    • Replies: @AnalogMan
    , @D. K.
  3. AnalogMan says:

    I’m not an expert, but I think you’re right. Cookies are data that a web site writes on a client’s computer, not the other way around. The description in the article sounds very fishy. I don’t think the author has a clue what he’s talking about.

  4. D. K. says:

    Cookies are certainly not inherently safe, but neither are they hyperlinks that a user sees on his computer screen and may click on, as the erstwhile state judge ludicrously claims:

    Neither is Reality Winner the nonpartisan patriot that the erstwhile state judge credulously assumes:

    • Replies: @TWS
  5. MEexpert says:

    Personally, I think this is deliberate. NSA wanted this story out. How could a 25 year old get top secret clearance? Did Intercept give FBI her name? That would be a violation of journalistic ethics. The whole thing sounds fishy.

    • Replies: @D. K.
  6. The report is startling, as it reveals that the NSA discovered that Russian hackers in late October and early November 2016 planted cookies ………..

    Why would I believe this or any story about Trump and the Russians. Imperial Washington is a liar and hates both of them. I regard everything the government or corporate media says as a lie. The DNC lost the election for the Democrats when it stole the nomination for Hillary. We know this from a leak not a hack. The leaker was gunned down in the street.

    • Agree: Seamus Padraig, TWS, Rurik
    • Replies: @MEexpert
  7. There are so many dimensions to this story that it’s hard to interpret the why, wherefore, and, well, what’s up.

    1) She’s a contractor, not an NSA employee. In that vein, she’s more Snowden than Manning.

    2) She’s in “transition” to become a male. In that vein, she’s more Manning (but with reversed sexual preferences).

    3) She has a name more appropriate to African Americans than a white person. Is that her given name or was it changed to match her politics?

    4) She has a social media record that should have alerted anyone who is tasked with monitoring the activities of NSA contractors to her instability. For instance, she published comments on social media that white people are terrorists, or, something to that effect.

    5) She’s a disappointed Bernie supporter and, appears to be disappointed less with Hillary and the DNC for disposing of Bernie like a soiled diaper of a 3-year old toddler than she is with our new GOP President who shows a temperament equally disturbing as that of Hillary.

    6) She’s unstated motives in disclosing information to The Intercept which was largely known already.

    7) She’s an incompetent spy or leaker, at best, as she was easily arrested.

    What to make of that set of mixed-up, and seemingly incompatible items? I can’t figure it out.

    But I’ll agree that she should be prosecuted and be locked up in the same cell as Hillary…oops…that’s not gonna happen now, is it?


    • Replies: @dearieme
  8. MEexpert says:
    @D. K.

    I read the article. My question still remains unanswered. She had a troubled history on the social media, which the NSA, FBI, and CIA monitor all the time and yet she got top secret clearance.

    I think it is part of the plot to convince the public that Russia hacked the election. So far they have not succeeded. This scenario will sound more acceptable to the public as it would appear that this leak was unauthorized so the facts must be true.

    • Agree: Bill Jones
  9. dearieme says:

    How in God’s name was she entrusted with such a job? I smell a rat in all this.

  10. MEexpert says:

    Isn’t it odd that the NSA and the FBI found this leaker so quickly but still haven’t found the leaker of DNC and Podesta emails after so many months? There is also the case of DNC leaker’s murder which remains unsolved.

  11. The underlying issue is if anybody believes this drivel is anything other than the usual NSA disinfirmation.

  12. KenH says:

    So the judge thinks a third rate human being who said “being white is terrorism” and who only leaked information to damage Trump is somehow patriotic and doing a national service? He cleverly sidesteps and ignores her anti-white racial politics. After all, most libertarians fear being called white supremacist or associated with anything pro-white.

    Would he feel that way if a contractor had leaked information to damage the halfrican Barry Obama but at the same time said being black is terrorism? I’d wager that the judge would find the courage to condemn that person’s anti-black racial opinions to maintain his standing in the “goodwhite” tribe.

    Snowden’s motives were to inform the American people of the abuses being committed against them and violation of their Constitutional rights by the U.S. intelligence agencies and was a whistleblower in every sense of the word. He didn’t hate certain groups of Americans and his actions weren’t politically motivated. What Reality Winner (one effed up name) did should in no way be applauded or be considered on par with the heroism of Edward Snowden.

    I’m also suspicious that suddenly we’ve discovered evidence that Russia actually did find a way to change the vote tabulation, thus calling the legitimacy of Trump’s victory into question. That the “Russian hacking” narrative continues to change to meet the needs of the Deep State and those that seek to depose Trump on both sides of the political aisle should be a major red flag.

  13. The report is startling, as it reveals that the NSA discovered that Russian hackers in late October and early November 2016 planted cookies (attractive, uniquely tailored links) into the websites of 122 American city and county clerks responsible for counting ballots in the presidential election. This means that if any employee of those clerks’ offices clicked onto any cookie, the hackers had access to — and thus the ability to interfere with — the tabulation of votes.

    This is not true.

    Tabulation machines are NOT connected to the internet and do not accept USB sticks or removable media. The only output is alphanumeric data on a LCD display.

    Voting machines are likewise NOT connected to the internet and the only removable media they use is a ballot.

    All voting precincts keep paper ballots that can be cross checked against hand counted or electronic vote totals.

    Here’s a picture of a typical electronic vote tabulator.:

  14. Here are facts:

    1. Russian hackers are famous worldwide, this does not mean they were Russian government hackers.

    2. The NSA uses foreign computers and software for its own hacking, so it might be our NSA.

    3. No one is sure what the hackers wanted from these small govt websites. They might have just been looking for things of value. One was in Samoa, which has no electoral votes.

    4. The report was done by a few contractors based on weak evidence whose conclusions government officials declared unsupported.

    5. Our NSA is trying to restart the Cold war, so this might all be a false flag.

    • Replies: @woodNfish
  15. Napolitano’s argument is weak. In the first case, there would be no need for Reality Winner to do what she did merely to inform us that the NSA is spying on us all, because we already knew that thanks to Snowden (who, unlike this neurotic hatchling, is a real patriot and hero). Secondly, I used to do computer programming, and unless cookies have changed radically since I left the industry, they are not capable of altering data on your computer; they are simply used to report that data (computer settings, user preferences, etc.) to a server somewhere when you log back into it. Thirdly, there were plenty of polls in October and November putting Trump and Hillary within the margin of error, which is precisely where the popular vote tally ended up. So primae faciae, there’s just no evidence at all that any a large-scale vote fraud occurred.

    No, this all smells like another deep state psy-op against Trump … and the public.

  16. gda says:

    Thought the judge was a stand-up guy. After yesterday’s performance, just another never-Trumper.

    What a shame.

  17. woodNfish says:

    In response to the good Judges last paragraph, anyone who trusts or believes the government is a fool.

  18. woodNfish says:
    @Carlton Meyer

    5. Our NSA is trying to restart the Cold war, so this might all be a false flag.

    They need something to try and keep the NSA relevant when anyone with half a brain realizes they are the enemy of everything our Constitution and the Bill of Rights stand for.

  19. hbm says:

    The technical side of this does not sound sound to me.

    Also: Who are “Russian hackers”? There’s a whole lot of sleazy Russians on the Internet doing sleazy things– with no connection to the Russian government; they have been doing what they do since the Internet was born. Phishing; password and pirated software and credit card number peddling; black market stuff– regular Russian hackers have been doing this forever, and they all like to go after big targets even if they have no real reason to– like Guccifer, who was a low-life Romanian cab-driver who thought he would hack the DNC, for kicks. I don’t know about “cookies” but Trojans can be injected into things like flash images that you see in all sorts of clickbait and spam advertisements, and these folks do it with no set purpose in mind.

    It’s also curious that Congress is so concerned with “Russian interference” when virtually every one of them is owned by foreign money.

  20. TWS says:
    @D. K.

    The judge knows exactly what our little ‘Winner’ is. Partisan, anti-American, leftist scum. But you don’t get to be a tame conservative unless you support the narrative.

    • Troll: MEexpert
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