Reality Winner, the former Air Force linguist and intelligence contractor who pleaded guilty in June to leaking a top-secret government report on Russian hacking, was sentenced Thursday to five years and three months in federal prison.
Winner, 26, is the first person to be sentenced under the Espionage Act since President Donald Trump took office. Prosecutors said her sentence was the longest ever imposed in federal court for an unauthorized release of government information to the media.
She was arrested in June 2017 and was held for more than a year while prosecutors built a case. She pleaded guilty this June to one felony count of unauthorized transmission of national defense information for giving a classified report about Russian interference in the 2016 election to a news outlet.
Prosecutors said Thursday that Winner's actions merited a stiff sentence.
"Winner's purposeful violation put our nation's security at risk," U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine told reporters after the sentencing in federal court in Augusta, Ga. He said the report she leaked revealed sources and methods of intelligence gathering, and its disclosure "caused exceptionally grave damage to U.S. national security."
He added that she "knowingly and intentionally betrayed the trust of her colleagues and her country" and was "the quintessential example of an insider threat."
Winner was fresh out of the Air Force and a few months into a job as a translator for the National Security Agency in May 2017 when prosecutors say she printed a report from her work computer that detailed hacking attacks by a Russian intelligence service against local election officials and voter registration databases. She later told investigators that she smuggled the report out of the Augusta offices of the contractor, Pluribus International, in her pantyhose, and then mailed it to the online news outlet the Intercept.
Following a trail of clues, the FBI arrested Winner two days before the Intercept published the classified report.
Addressing Chief Judge J. Randall Hall in court Thursday, Winner said she took "full responsibility" for the "undeniable mistake I made." She said she "would like to apologize profusely" for her actions.
Federal guidelines allowed for a sentence of up to 10 years, but prosecutors agreed in June to a sentence of 63 months to avoid a trial that would require discussing classified reports in open court.