AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — A young woman accused of leaking U.S. government secrets to a reporter was indicted by a federal grand jury as she awaited a court hearing Thursday to determine whether she must remain jailed pending a trial.
Prosecutors plan to ask a judge to deny bond for 25-year-old Reality Winner, according to court records filed in the case. A grand jury returned an indictment Wednesday in U.S. District Court charging her with a single count of illegally retaining and transmitting national defense information.
It’s the same charge federal authorities used to arrest Winner, a government contractor and former Air Force linguist, after FBI agents interviewed her and searched her Augusta home Saturday. FBI agent Justin Garrick said in an affidavit that Winner admitted she copied a classified report containing top-secret information and mailed it to an online news organization.
The charge Winner faces carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Winner’s attorney, Titus Nichols, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday. Her mother told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday she fears prosecutors will try to use the case to send a tough message that “we’re not going to tolerate leakers.”
“I think they’re going to try to make an example out of her because of the political climate right now,” Billie Winner-Davis said.
Winner has been jailed in neighboring Lincoln County since her arrest, according to a booking report released by the sheriff.
“She’s not a flight risk,” said Gary Davis, Winner’s stepfather. “Everybody in America knows what she looks like at this point. She’s never run away from anything in her life. She’s not a violent person. She has no record. There’s no reason to hold her.”
Prosecutors have not named the news outlet, but her arrest was announced Monday as the website The Intercept reported it had obtained a classified National Security Agency report suggesting Russian hackers had attacked a U.S. voting software supplier before last year’s presidential election.
The Intercept said the NSA report was dated May 5 – the same date court records cited for the documents Winner is accused of leaking.
Winner grew up in Kingsville, Texas, and enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from high school. Davis said she became a linguist, speaking Arabic and Farsi, and spent four years assigned to the NSA at Fort Meade, Maryland. During that time, he said, Winner provided real-time translation to Americans conducting field missions.
Davis said she received a commendation for aiding in the deaths of more than 100 enemy combatants and more than 250 enemy captures.
“If she made this mistake,” Davis said, referring to the leaked documents, “it needs to be balanced against what she has done in the past and how she has served this country.”
Neither prosecutors nor Winner’s parents have identified the government agency where she worked at the time of her arrest. But the NSA has operated a $286 million complex in Augusta since 2012.