Whistleblower's Mother Calls for US to Respect Her Imprisoned Daughter's Legal and Human Rights
March 14, 2018
Amy Goodman & Billie Winter-Davis / Democracy Now! & The Huffington Post
Reality Leigh Winner is a former National Security Agency contractor who has pleaded not guilty to charges she leaked a top-secret document to The Intercept about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Jailed without bail and without charges, Winter spends 12 hours a day in shackles as she faces up to 10 years in prison on charges she violated the Espionage Act.
Mother of Accused NSA Leaker Reality Winner:
"My Daughter Wasn't Read Her Miranda Rights"
Amy Goodman / Democracy Now!
(March 2, 2018) -- On Tuesday, former US intelligence contractor Reality Leigh Winner appeared in court in Augusta, Georgia, where her lawyers asked the judge to exclude her statements to FBI agents on the day she was arrested, arguing she was denied her Miranda rights.
Winner is a former National Security Agency contractor who has pleaded not guilty to charges she leaked a top-secret document to The Intercept about Russian interference in the 2016 election. She is facing up to 10 years in prison on charges she violated the Espionage Act.
For more, we speak with two guests. In Chicago, we're joined by Kevin Gosztola, a journalist and managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He was in the courtroom in Augusta on Tuesday, and his recent article is titled "In Reality Winner's Case, Defense Seizes Upon FBITestimony to Bolster Motion to Suppress Statements."
And in Augusta, Georgia, we speak with by Reality Winner's mother, Billie Winner-Davis. She's joining us from her daughter's house, where Reality Winner was questioned and arrested by FBI agents on June 3.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show with updates in the case of former US intelligence contractor Reality Leigh Winner, who's facing up to 10 years in prison on charges she violated the Espionage Act. Winner is a former National Security Agency contractor who's pleaded not guilty to charges she leaked a top-secret document to The Intercept about Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Reality Winner was arrested by FBI agents at her home in Augusta, Georgia, on June 3rd, two days before The Intercept published an expose revealing Russian military intelligence conducted a cyberattack on at least one US voting software company just days before the US presidential election last November.
The expose was based on a classified NSA report from May 5th, 2017, that shows that the agency is convinced the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, was responsible for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
Reality is the first whistleblower to be accused of violating the Espionage Act under the Trump administration. She's been denied bail and has been jailed since June. On Tuesday, she appeared in court in Augusta, Georgia, in orange jumpsuit and shackles, where her lawyers asked the judge to exclude her statements to the FBI agents on the day she was arrested, arguing she was denied her Miranda rights.
Well, we're joined right now by two guests. In Chicago, Kevin Gosztola is with us, managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He's been covering Reality Winner's case and has just come back from Augusta. He's also covered several whistleblower cases, including Chelsea Manning's.
He was in the courtroom in Augusta Tuesday. And his recent article is headlined "In Reality Winner's Case, Defense Seizes Upon FBI Testimony to Bolster Motion to Suppress Statements." But first we go to Augusta, Georgia, where we're joined by Reality Winner's mother, Billie Winner-Davis. She's joining us from her daughter's home, where Reality was questioned and arrested by FBI agents on June 3rd.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Billie Winner-Davis, let's begin with you. As you sit in Reality's home, talk about what you understood happened that first weekend of June in 2017. Walk us through this.
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Well, on June 3rd, Reality returned from a trip to the grocery store, and she was immediately approached by male FBI agents at her home. They advised her that they had a search warrant -- they had search warrants for her home, her car and her person.
She cooperated with them fully. They took her cellphone. They took her keys. They asked her if she had a place -- if she wanted to basically be interviewed here at her home or if she wanted to go down to the FBI office.
She agreed to be interviewed here at her home. They asked if she had a place that they could interview her that was away from everything. She advised them that she did have a spare back room, a bedroom here in the house. She advised them that she was not comfortable going into that room. She called the room creepy and weird. They nevertheless led her to that room to interview her with regard to their investigation.
This week, in court, her lawyers argued that, basically, the actions that the FBI agents took were actions that confined her. They had her in their custody. She never felt at any time that she was free to leave. And in fact, her actions during the interview and during the whole process told them that she felt like she wasn't free to leave.
She asked for permission to move about. She asked for permission to even use the restroom, which they gave her. She was at all times accompanied by agents. And on that day, it was 11 FBI agents that came into this home to either interview her or search her. And so -- and it is a very small home. And so, basically, I get the impression that it was very frightening, it was very intimidating, for her that day.
AMY GOODMAN: Billie, the FBI agents were armed?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Yes. From what we've learned, nine of the 11 FBI agents and personnel here at her home that day were armed.
AMY GOODMAN: And they immediately took her cellphone and her car keys, and they said -- and they took her into that room that she has described as creepy?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Yes, that is correct. That is correct. And at no point did they return her cellphone to her, return her car keys to her. We saw photographs which definitely showed that her car was surrounded. There would have been no physical way for her to even leave in her vehicle if she wanted to. And so, the argument that the defense made this week was a strong one, that she was basically being held here.
AMY GOODMAN: Was she read her Miranda rights?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Yes, ma'am? No, she was never read her Miranda rights. And the FBI agents did admit to that. They did admit that at no time did they read her Miranda rights or did they feel like they had to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: And this is what's at issue, is that right? Her lawyers want to suppress her statements to the FBI, saying she was not read her Miranda rights, not told she could remain silent or have a lawyer with her.
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: That's correct. That's correct.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Gosztola, you've not only covered this trial, but others. Can you talk further about what this means? What happened to Reality on that day?
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: [inaudible] rights, which goes to, you know, due process issues and whether a person has a right to remain silent.
One of the aspects of the law that is at issue here is something that I didn't really know, until this case, existed: a concept called custodial interrogation. And FBI agents apparently can come into your home, and if you're not in a police-dominated atmosphere, if a court of law doesn't determine that police took over this area, then in fact you were never detained or arrested, and they can basically manipulate or have their way with you.
And so, what the judge is looking at here is whether enough factors appear where she is actually in custody. And if that's the case, if the judge agrees with the defense, what they've listed off and what Billie was talking about, then, in fact, the judge may rule that her rights were violated.
And some other things that were talked about is the fact that, you know, she had a search warrant for her person -- or the FBI had a search warrant for her person. And when they came there, the government wants to maintain that they executed it when they took the cellphone.
But about 28 minutes into this whole encounter, another agent, who did not take the stand, Wally Taylor, said something about still having a search warrant for her person. Nobody is free to leave if the FBI still has a search warrant to execute against you. And so, clearly, she couldn't have left her home and just wandered to the convenience store, as the government talked during the hearing.
Another aspect that's important is that she was regarded, even before this encounter, as someone who was a danger to the community. That's how the FBI viewed her. They also viewed her as a potential target of foreign intelligence.
One way that the defense really tried to poke at the government's arguments that they didn't do anything wrong was to say that if you have somebody in their home and they're isolated in this way and they're surrounded by a surveillance team, you're not really going to let them leave and go into the community. You know, if we're going to follow your logic, you wouldn't have let Reality Winner leave her house.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Billie Winner-Davis, you know your daughter well. She's an Air Force veteran -- her rank, senior airman; her last duty, cryptologic language analyst. She had been stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland, before working in Augusta. That military training, with having FBI come in, what would be her assumption, now stripped of phone, car keys, asking to go to the bathroom?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Right. All of her actions that day -- and when you read the transcript, and we heard clips of the audio -- all of her actions that day told us that she did never -- she never felt like she was free to leave. And I know, in talking with her shortly after the incident, she did indicate to me that she was frightened.
I heard her voice on the audio. I heard it shaking. The prosecution tried to make it seem that this was a very casual encounter, almost like one that would occur at Starbucks. But what I heard on the audio was far from that. Her voice was shaking.
Yes, she was making small talk, and she was making jokes, and she was laughing. But that's out of nervousness. They twisted a lot of things to try to make it look like this was a very mild encounter that she had with FBI agents at her home.
But anyone puts theirselves in her situation -- 11 male armed FBI agents -- nine of them armed, but 11 male FBI agents have come into your home. Two of them have taken you to the back room in your house, where you have already told them you are not comfortable. You are asking permission to make any movements in your home. She was never under the impression that she was free to leave. And, therefore, I believe she was in their custody.
AMY GOODMAN: Billie Winner-Davis and Kevin Gosztola, we have to break. We're going to come back to this discussion. Billie Winner-Davis is the mother of Reality Winner, who faces 10 years in prison.
She has been now jailed for nine months, brought into a courtroom this week in an orange jumpsuit and shackles. We'll also continue with Kevin Gosztola, speaking to us from Chicago, just back from Augusta, where the courtroom scene played out this week. Stay with us . . . .
AMY GOODMAN: "Last Leaf" by Joan Baez, from her new album, Whistle Down the Wind, released today. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. We're continuing to cover the case of former US intelligence contractor Reality Leigh Winner, who's facing up to 10 years in prison on charges of violating the Espionage Act.
She has now been jailed for nine months on charges she leaked a top-secret document to The Intercept about Russian interference in the September -- in the US elections. We're joined by Reality's mother, Billie Winner-Davis, and Kevin Gosztola, a journalist who's covering this trial intensively, was just in Augusta this week in the courtroom.
I want to turn now to Billie Winner-Davis showing Democracy Now! this morning the room where the FBI questioned her daughter Reality.
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: According to the FBI agents and my daughter, she was with her back up against this wall, and there would have been an agent here, standing here, on this corner, and an agent either on this wall or this wall. They're not really sure. But so, she was kind of triangled in by the agents, her back up against that wall, again.
According to her, the door was nearly shut. The agents were not clear, their recollection, as to whether the door was shut or not. And so, when you think about this room, you think about it empty. You think about her in here with two FBIagents, her back against the wall. To me, it felt very intimidating. It would have been almost like a jail cell.
AMY GOODMAN: So that's Billie Winner-Davis, mother of Reality, in that back room that Reality called creepy, where the FBI held her and questioned her. Kevin Gosztola, you were in court with Billie's family this week, when her lawyer -- Reality's lawyers asked to suppress her statements, believing that she was not read her Miranda rights, which the FBI agreed she was not, saying she was not free to leave. At least she didn't believe she was. Can you describe how unusual it was that Reality was brought in in shackles and orange jumpsuit? You've covered a number of these trials.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Yeah. Well, I was stunned to see her brought into the room in an orange jumpsuit. I had covered other cases similar to this. And I was under the assumption that she would be brought into a back room, allowed to change into whatever she wanted to wear, and then brought out in those clothes.
And when she entered, she had shackles on her feet, she had cuffs. They brought her all the way up to the defense table and then took the handcuffs off. I believe they kept the shackles on her legs, so she sat down with those.
And then another aspect that I found striking was that they had a marshal. There were two US marshals that were escorting her. One of the marshals sat right in front of her during the entire hearing as it unfolded. He was in her face. He was never staring her down, but he was seated in a way where his body was turned and he was looking towards a corner of the courtroom.
And this, to me, just seemed to be really overboard. And I compared it to what I experienced covering Chelsea Manning's trial. And I know it's far, far different, but my memory of that was so vivid of Chelsea just walking in, the marshal allowing her to take her seat. There weren't any handcuffs, never any shackles on Chelsea's feet. And it just seems to me that what's going on here is some serious dehumanization of somebody right before a judge's very eyes.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about the fact that she has been held in jail for nine months, denied bail, and how that compares to previous cases.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Yeah, this is very remarkable, even if we just look at federal cases. I know you've covered the Jeffrey Sterling case, the CIA whistleblower who was prosecuted. He just got out of prison.
In fact, before he went to trial, he was not in jail. I know that you've covered CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, and he's been on this program. He was not in pretrial detention before he went to trial or before he had a chance to go through some of his pretrial hearings. Eventually, he pled guilty to a charge.
And so, in this case, she has been put behind bars because the government wants to argue that she could be a target of foreign intelligence and a danger to the community. And even more troubling, even more disturbing to me, the judge is allowing the government to argue that she probably hates America, and that makes her someone who should be kept in jail. And I don't know regulations as well as a lawyer, but, to me, it seems like that kind of an opinion shouldn't make you somebody who is denied bail.
On top of that, there are several ways in which you can control the movement of a person so that they can be guaranteed to show up to hearings or to their trial. You can put an ankle bracelet on them, which is one thing that she's willing to do. Y
ou can have your passport seized. Reality is willing to go through that. I understand that her parents were willing to put up collateral in order to cover the home, and then she would be put on home confinement, and that would be a way in order to ensure that she didn't flee.
But the government has crafted this story of Reality as some kind of super spy, even though the FBI agents said in their interrogation that they didn't believe that she was this kind of a person. They've created this narrative of some kind of super spy, who possibly sympathizes with the Taliban even.
Very obscenely, they were talking in court about how she had done searches on her computer for how to follow the Taliban without the government detecting that. And so, they're really trying to keep her in jail and really go after her, in similar ways that they've done to other whistleblowers.
AMY GOODMAN: I just want to quote the judge in this case, Federal Judge Brian Epps of Augusta, Georgia, who said his decision to deny bail was based in part on social media comments by Reality that she, quote, "admires Edward Snowden and Julian Assange." So, if you, Kevin Gosztola, can talk about exactly what Reality Winner is charged with, what the government is saying she did?
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: She's accused of gathering and releasing classified information without authorization. It's under the Espionage Act. This is a 1910s-era law. We're going back over a century here. Originally, this would have been used against dissenters in this period. It was a way to go after people who, you know, I understand, were accused of seditious crimes.
But, in fact, in this case, there's no evidence at all that she had any communication with any agent of a foreign power. There's no evidence that she was providing anything to any spies. And none of the agents make that allegation at all.
In fact, she could have been charged with a misdemeanor, just like David Petraeus was charged with a misdemeanor, of unauthorized removal or retention of classified information. They chose to go after her with this felony charge. They chose to continue the same process that was perfected by the Justice Department under President Barack Obama and used against several individuals while he was president. And they've chosen to really make an example out of her.
And I don't think it has anything to do necessarily with the content of the information. It has to do with the zealous view that the Justice Department has about individuals who are low-level employees of the government who engage in this kind of action.
And we also know that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is somebody who has a particular disdain for leaks, has always been supremely disgusted by this. And, in fact, one of the things that he announced back in August of 2017 is that they were starting a counterintelligence division inside the FBI that would be particularly handling these cases.
Now, that was after Reality Winner's arrest and after this case came to their attention, but they've almost tripled the number of unauthorized disclosure cases that they're pursuing at the Justice Department, just in the first years of the Trump administration, when you compare it to the Obama administration. Those are Jeff Sessions' own words.
And so, they're really going after her here, and they intend to put as much pressure on her. I believe that what they're doing by keeping her in prison is intended to make her plead guilty and not go to trial, and they would like her to roll over and accept some time in jail and not defend herself.
AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to go through the timeline, Kevin and Billie. On the day that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, May 9, 2017, Reality would later be charged with finding and printing a classified report entitled "Russia/Cybersecurity: Main intelligence Directorate Cyber Actors." The next day was May 10th. Trump celebrated with Russian officials in the White House, bragging he had fired "nut job" Comey in order to end any Russiagate investigation.
Hours later, according to the government, Reality allegedly sent the NSA report to the media, May 11th. And the quote of Reality -- "Why do I have this job if I'm just going to sit back and be helpless . . . I just thought that was the final straw" -- that's what Reality allegedly explained, under interrogation, saying, "I felt really hopeless seeing that information contested. Why isn't this out there? Why can't this be public?"
Now, again, this is allegedly what she said. We weren't there. Only she was there, with the FBI agents, and this is all material that her lawyers are asking to suppress. But talk about the significance of this timeline and the document that The Intercept published, that the government alleges is from Reality Winner, although it turns out now that the government learned, because they can figure out these things, that this was printed by a number of different people, printed something like six times. Kevin?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Yes, that's my understanding -- oh, I'm sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, yeah, let me go to Kevin, and then, Billie, I want to go back to you.
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: OK.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Sorry about that. Yeah, the government says it was printed six times. That was in the indictment. They also claim that none of those individuals had emailed The Intercept, and so it has to be Reality Winner. Of course, that doesn't consider the possibility that maybe those other individuals were able to conceal their communications, in ways that are probably far too well known to the government.
But I think what's important is that this document was something where, you know, it showed that alleged hackers were targeting voter registration systems. It raised issues that were actually prominent in the media. This was something that people were discussing. And, in fact, this very story was something that was back in the press, not -- only three or four weeks ago, we were talking about it, because other news media were confirming details of this report and pursuing it.
And so, I think it's really important for this information to be out, and I also think it's important that we talk about what it was that she revealed, because it shows you that what she did was in fact a whistleblower act, if she is the person who revealed this report, because it's not like she was just reckless. It's not like she just was inside of her office and using the access she had in order to gain some kind of popularity.
She actually read this document and was concerned about it. And, in fact, if we're to believe the confession, the agents even recognized that she is probably somebody who's angry about politics, and they recognize that she's somebody who's frustrated by Donald Trump's election, and that, in fact, the reason why she probably released this document has something to do with that.
AMY GOODMAN: Billie, before we lose the satellite feed to you in Augusta, Georgia, in Reality's home, where you are now, just tell us about your daughter. Tell us about Reality. You're not able to have contact visits with her this last nine months, last seeing her in the courtroom in that orange jumpsuit? How do you visit her? How do you talk to her? Who's listening?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: They are listening. The prosecution is monitoring everything. The NSA is monitoring everything. All of her incoming and outgoing mail is sent to the NSA for scanning. And all of our conversations, of course, are recorded. She is able to call me freely, as long as we keep funds on her books at the jail. She's able to purchase calling cards and call us. So she does call me daily.
I'm able to visit with her as long as I'm here in Georgia. I'm able to visit with her on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Each visit is kept at 30 minutes. And it is between glass, and it is over a phone. It is being monitored. You're correct, during this entire time, she has not had to have any -- she has not been allowed to have any contact visits whatsoever. We have not been able to touch our daughter. I have not been able to hug her.
Seeing her in the courtroom, brought in in the orange jumpsuit with the "inmate" marked on it, seeing her shackled, seeing her handcuffed, seeing the way that they're treating her, it is -- it is something that really causes me a lot of pain, a lot of emotional pain, to see her treated like that. And it's been very, very difficult. These last nine months have been extremely difficult. And we know that we've got -- we've got a long road ahead of us.
AMY GOODMAN: Billie, talk about Reality and her chosen profession. I mean, she is an Air Force veteran. She is a cybersecurity expert. Just talk about her career. When did she go into the military? And then, what did she do from there to now?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: Yes, she joined the military right after high school graduation. And, in fact, she was looking into the military while she was still in high school. She went into the Air Force directly after her high school graduation, in December of 2010, I want to say. And she went into the military. She wanted to be a linguist. And she wanted to be a Middle Eastern linguist. They did train her.
They trained her to speak Farsi, Dari and Pashto. She was very good at her job. She served her country very well. Prior to her discharge, her honorable discharge from the Air Force, she did receive a commendation medal for the work that she did. And, you know, it specifies all that she did for her country. It specifies how important she was. It lists out that she was instrumental in identifying and capturing over 600 targets while she was employed as a linguist for the Air Force.
Following her discharge from the Air Force, she did look into ways that she could actually go to the Middle East, to Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, to actually help there. She wanted to do humanitarian aid there. She had applied to different organizations, but she had not been able to secure a job with those humanitarian organizations. So, she did relocate back to Augusta, where she had been deployed.
She had been deployed to Augusta during her time in the Air Force, as well. She relocated back here to Augusta. She had friends here. She knew that she had a job teaching spinning and yoga here in Augusta. And then she did gain employment with a contract agency here in Augusta, and she began her employment at the NSA in February of 2017, I believe. My years kind of get mixed up, so I apologize if I'm not correct with that.
So, Reality is extremely passionate and compassionate. She goes out of her way to better her community. She has done volunteer work. She's done community service work. When she was in Maryland, she was part of a group called Athletes Serving Athletes, where she ran marathons with disabled youth.
She was fostering a dog here while she was in Augusta. She has always been very involved in service work, and that's who she is, and always trying to better -- better her world, better her planet, better her country. So, we're very proud of Reality. I'm very proud.
AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Gosztola, the issue of not releasing her, suggesting she is a threat, can you talk about this? And though Russian interference in the elections was not her specialty, why this might have concerned her?
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: I think she was concerned because she's a citizen, just like everybody else in this country. And if it looks like our voter registration systems are vulnerable to hacking by Russians or Chinese or Iranians or any other country, that's something to be concerned about.
And I think, you know, one way to tie it to the current news here is, if the government really wants to pursue this logic that Reality Winner can be a target of foreign intelligence because of the way she allegedly mishandled or made this unauthorized disclosure of classified information, then possibly we should have
Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump hauled into a jail cell, just so that they can be isolated and protected, so that they can't be targeted and manipulated by foreign intelligence. I mean, because that's really the logic that the government has been using here, is that because of what's in her head and because she knows and because of the service that she has done for this country, she is someone who is vulnerable to attacks by people.
So they not only are upset with her views, but they're also upset by the fact that she knows secrets, and they lost control of her.
AMY GOODMAN: Billie Winner-Davis, we're going to end with you. I wanted to ask you about the name, your daughter's name, Reality Winner. Why did you choose Reality?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: It wasn't me. It was her dad. When we had our first child, I named the first child. I was able to pick out her name. And so, when I became pregnant with Reality and we found out it was a girl, their dad at that time, he said, "Well, you know, you named the first child, I get to name the second child."
And the last name is Winner, which is rather unique. And he stated that he wanted a real winner. And so he named her Reality. And throughout her life, it has just fit her perfectly. She is a very unique, special person. It's a beautiful name. It fits her personality. It fits who she is.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Billie, what do you want for your daughter right now?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: What I want for her, what I need, is for everybody to keep her in the focus. Say her name. I want everybody to know who Reality Winner is and what is happening to Reality Winner. It's very, very important that she be remembered and that people not forget what she is going through, the battle that she faces, that she is being silenced, that she is being hidden away, she is locked away. And I really want everybody to remember her name, to speak her name, to talk about her. That's what I want.
AMY GOODMAN: Billie Winner-Davis, thanks so much for joining us, inviting us into your daughter's home. Your daughter, Reality Winner, now currently jailed in Georgia. The trial for Reality is set for what date, Billie?
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: We do not have a trial date at this point. The trial was originally scheduled for October, and then it was pushed to March. But as of right now, we do not have a new trial date. So we don't know when she will be -- face the jury. What I'm being told is that it will be late 2018, if not early February 2019.
AMY GOODMAN: Which means she could continue to be --
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: So we do have a long road ahead of us.
AMY GOODMAN: Which means she could continue to be in prison until that time.
BILLIE WINNER-DAVIS: That's correct. That is correct. We lost the appeal for bail. And so, yes, she no longer has any other options to fight for bond or bail.
AMY GOODMAN: Billie Winner-Davis, thanks so much for being with us, mother of Reality Winner, and Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of Shadowproof, a journalist covering Reality Winner's case. He has covered a number of them, including Chelsea Manning. And we'll link to his piece, "In Reality Winner's Case, Defense Seizes Upon FBITestimony to Bolster Motion to Suppress Statements."
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