Judge sides with prosecution in Reality Winner NSA leak case

A federal judge has sided with prosecutors in the case against former Fort Gordon contractor Reality Winner, finding that her defense team should be muzzled from speaking about any information deemed classified by the government, even if it has been widely reported in local, national and international media publications.

 

Winner has pleaded not guilty to a single count of violating a provision of the espionage act. She is accused of leaking a classified document to online media news publication, The Intercept.

That document was extensively reported on by The Intercept and numerous other news media organizations in stories on Winner, who is accused of leaking a national security document she allegedly obtained through her job with a NSA contractor on Fort Gordon.

The document is an analysis of the extent of Russia’s efforts to hack into state election boards. Russian meddling is the subject of U.S. Senate and House intelligence committees investigations and a special prosecutor who is looking into possible collusion between Trump supporters and the Russians during last year’s presidential campaign.

In his order released Thursday, Magistrate Judge Brian K. Epps wrote that determining what is classified information is a function of the executive branch of government, not the judicial branch.

Just because the defense team has expressed concern of accidentally mishandling classified information is no reason to relax the strict procedures required, Epps wrote. The defense is not prohibited in using classified information in Winner’s defense, but it must follow the strict procedures, he wrote.

Both sides have until Aug. 16 to weigh in on Epps’ proposed protective order that describes the closely guarded handling of materials in the case. A classified information security officer is in charge of ensuring such information is handled only by those on the defense team who have obtained security clearance, and only in a secured location.

The defense is to have free access to that location during regular business hours, although other times may be allotted with proper notice and consultation with the U.S. Marshals Service, according to the order.

Any notes or other papers the defense may create using classified information is not allowed outside of the security location. Any document filed with the court that contains or might contain classified information must be filed under seal. Only those portions deemed not classified by the classified information security officer will be unsealed for public review.

At the end of the case any such defense-prepared material will be destroyed by the classified information security officer. The confines of the protective order are a lifetime commitment and any violation is punishable not only by a finding of contempt but criminal prosecution.

The publication of any classified information does not change the classified status unless a member of the executive branch of government with the proper authorization declares the information to be declassified.

Winner’s trial is tentatively set to begin in October.

Reach Sandy Hodson at sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com or (706) 823-3226

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