RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Kiriakou writes: "The arrest this week of NSA contractor Reality Winner on Espionage Act charges of providing national defense information to The Intercept is the clearest evidence to date that President Donald Trump intends to continue former president Barack Obama’s war on whistleblowers and transparency."

Reality Winner worked for an NSA contractor and has been arrested for allegedly leaking a top secret NSA document. (photo: Facebook)
Reality Winner worked for an NSA contractor and has been arrested for allegedly leaking a top secret NSA document. (photo: Facebook)

What Reality Winner Did Was Heroic

By John Kiriakou, Reader Supported News

08 June 17


he arrest this week of NSA contractor Reality Winner on Espionage Act charges of providing national defense information to The Intercept is the clearest evidence to date that President Donald Trump intends to continue former president Barack Obama’s war on whistleblowers and transparency. It also calls into question the professionalism of The Intercept’s journalists, as well as the professional integrity of reporters Richard Esposito and Matthew Cole.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have a history with both Esposito and Cole. Esposito and I were friends for many years, and we worked together at ABC News from 2008 to 2009 and again from 2011 to 2012. My history with Cole is far more sordid. Cole approached me in 2008 to say that he was writing a book on the CIA’s rendition program. He sent me a list of a dozen names and asked if I could introduce him to anybody on the list. I told him truthfully that I was not involved in renditions and that I did not know anybody on the list. He followed up with a second list, and then a third. I finally said that he obviously knew the issue far better than I did and that I just couldn’t be helpful. Finally, he said, “What about the guy you mentioned in your [first] book? I think his name was ‘John.’” I said, “You’re talking about John Doe. He must be retired by now and living somewhere in Virginia.” That conversation was a crime. I confirmed the name of a former colleague to Cole. Even though I had no idea that colleague was still undercover, it was still a felony.

But the story gets much worse. As it turned out, Cole was never working on any book. Instead, he was secretly acting as an investigator for the Guantanamo defense attorneys. He took John Doe’s name, sent it to a fellow investigator, John Sifton, and Sifton sent it to the attorneys. The attorneys then put the name in a sealed, classified motion asking the judge for permission to interview Doe. The Guantanamo judge immediately recognized that the name was classified and he called the FBI. The FBI subpoenaed the defense attorneys’ emails and traced one back to Sifton. Sifton either cooperated with the FBI (he later testified against me in the grand jury) or the FBI subpoenaed his emails, and traced the information back to Cole.

The next step is still a mystery. The FBI either subpoenaed Cole’s emails – those of a working journalist – or Cole ratted me out to the FBI. Neither Cole nor the FBI have ever said what happened.

And it wasn’t just me who Cole manipulated. In the course of my case, my investigators found ten pages of handwritten notes from Cole, provided to us by a friendly attorney, wherein Cole had spoken with a disgruntled former CIA employee who had eventually given him the names of ten different undercover CIA officers. Cole also passed these names to the Guantanamo defense attorneys, whose investigators then photographed these officers at a secret CIA site so that the Guantanamo detainees they represented could identify them. That’s not journalism. It’s activism. It’s also highly unethical.

Fast-forward seven years. The Intercept promotes itself as the go-to place for national security whistleblowers. The outlet even has its PGP encryption keys on its website, where it encourages national security professionals to send in classified documents. That’s a great idea and one that I support fully. Apparently, that’s what Reality Winner did. She sent The Intercept an NSA analysis of Russian involvement in hacking related to the 2016 presidential election. Esposito and Cole, however, in an ill-advised attempt to “authenticate” the document, sent it to one of their “NSA contacts,” who immediately alerted authorities. Winner was arrested mere hours after the Esposito/Cole article was published.

How did the FBI zero in on Winner so quickly? Admittedly, she made mistakes. She initially contacted The Intercept from a work computer. And when she finally sent the document in, she left identifying information on it. More importantly – and this is something that every journalist who purports to be a specialist in national security ought to know – NSA marks every single document with microscopic tags. When an NSA employee prints a document, there are tiny markings indicating that that specific employee has printed it. When Esposito and Cole showed a copy of the original document. to their NSA contact, they had sealed Winner’s fate.

And now Winner faces charges under the Espionage Act, a 1917 law designed to combat spies and saboteurs. It’s like using an iron fist to kill a fly. As recently as the Clinton administration, such revelations of classified information were dealt with administratively and internally. When I was at the CIA, I worked with a woman who was accused of providing classified information on Iran to a CNN reporter with whom she was having an affair. The leak was traced to her, she admitted passing the information, and she was suspended without pay for six weeks and barred from promotion for three years. Her career eventually recovered, and she was promoted into the Senior Intelligence Service. There was no Espionage Act prosecution for her.

We now know where Trump stands on whistleblower issues. He stands with Obama. He stands as an enemy of transparency. Let me be clear: Reality Winner is a whistleblower. I don’t care what her motivation for disclosing the document was. It’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that the American people have a right to know what she revealed. Why is it a secret that the Russians were working to elect Donald Trump? There is a public interest in disseminating that information.

Winner faces the possibility of many years in prison. But what she did was heroic. The American people will come to recognize that. And in the meantime, she’s going to take her place in a long line of truth-tellers. Esposito and Cole, meanwhile, should see the unemployment line.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act - a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+16 # MidwestDick 2017-06-08 13:41
This episode really makes The Intercept look bad and it also makes it appear that Cole is a real player, a counter counter counter spy.
In any case The Intercept's ability to receive confidential documents is badly crippled.
Maybe this will boost Michael Moore's shop, until they compromise him, which they are, most likely, already trying to do.
+18 # angelfish 2017-06-08 13:55
As an American Citizen, HOW could she do otherwise? As a Government Employee, is she not bound to serve protect and defend our Constitution? NO ONE swears allegiance to a President! THIS one(TrumpleTHIN skin), is trying to destroy this country and our Constitution so, in my estimation, Reality (Ironic, isn't it?) Winner should be lauded NOT penalized!
+16 # Jim Rocket 2017-06-08 14:20
This story is disturbing. I did find it odd that The Intercept wouldn't know about the NSA markings or at least take precautions along those lines. This naive girl is in for a rough ride even though she's working for the benefit of all of us.
+2 # lfeuille 2017-06-10 19:01
The Intercept has a bunch of new reporters who are maybe not as careful about protecting sources as Greenwald. Kiriakou indicates that one of the authors of The Intercept article in question, Matthew Cole, play a part in outing him.
+10 # MDSolomon 2017-06-08 15:08
John Kirakou writes: "... Apparently, that’s what Reality Winner did. She sent The Intercept an NSA analysis of Russian involvement in hacking related to the 2016 presidential election."


This is the same limited hangout that is found in the original report on "Russian hacking" from the Director of National Intelligence.

A recent article on this supposed leak says, "While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based."

No one has presented any facts that prove "Russian hacking" ever occurred.

Numerous retired NSA and CIA executives agree that no evidence has been presented; in fact, the evidence indicates that US intelligence is behind the attempts to show the Russians attempt to hack into the voting systems:

Certainly, US elections are hacked, but the hacking is done by the same folks who own the media, polling organizations, and electronic voting machines--the same folks who hacked 12 states for Clinton and the five swing states for Trump: the Anglo-Euro-Amer ican banking cartel and its corporations, who also own and operate the red and blue marketing brands:
+18 # dickbd 2017-06-08 15:10
Unfortunately, our government thrives on secrecy and power. A democracy relies upon an informed citizenry, but we can't have that with everything classified.

Might I also suggest that we would be better off without the CIA? Chalmers Johnson predicted, before 9/11, a terrorist attack because of the activities of the CIA and the garrisoning of troops around the world, particularly the Middle East.

I am baffled that I seem to be in a distinct minority here about the secrecy of our government and the urge to classify everything.
+13 # eriks 41 2017-06-08 15:39
She is a national hero!!! W need more like her to help protect us from our government.
+8 # BettyFaas 2017-06-08 16:04
There are suspicious things about those NSA documents that don't appear to be authentic. Not only that, Glen Greenwald was not allowed to edit the article (why?). It seems like more of the same shoddy "evidence" in the Russia, Russia, Russia scenario. The big money, Republican/Demo cratic, and deep state messing with elections have done just fine in tampering with "our democracy." Trump is the symptom and focus of the results. I wonder who got to the Intercept. Greenwald is a heroic journalist just as the many heroic whistleblowers. Excellence in journalism that truthfully informs us is in jeopardy also.
+1 # giraffee23 2017-06-08 17:36
If these documents SHOW Russian involvement then they should be USED to serve justice and to stop further such action. Russians had USA peoples involvement and this MUST lead to stopping further destruction of our elections (and whatever else Russians do.)
More than punishing a whistle blower with a 1917 law - I want she uncovered to be used to OUR (USA) advantage.
-14 # 2017-06-08 17:40
Heroic? I don't think so. The information she revealed was, in general terms, well known by the public so the revelation did not improve the public's understanding in any way. We all knew that Russians had tried to influence our elections just as we all know that we try to influence the elections of other countries. She added nothing of substance to the debate.

Gratuitous leaking like this is simply inept and stupid and a bid for ten minutes of fame. This is really a nothing burger and ignoring the whole story is the best course of action. Given that no actual harm was done, her sentence should be light to non-existent.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
+11 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-06-08 19:36
This is a truly horrifying tale and I think I'm now finished with reading the Intercept. These two journalists burned their source and condemned her to many years in prison. It may have been total incompentence on their part but given Kiriakou's experience with the sordid duplicity of Matthew Cole it may have been intentional. It may be that Mathew Cole is a mole working for the NSA or FBI and now embedded into the Intercept.

James Comey had a program to allow FBI agents to impersonate journalists to get inside news organizations and discover their sources. It was supposedly closed down in 2015 by the Justice Department. But sometimes only the name of the program is changed.

The actual NSA report says very little. That little is hyped up by Esposito and Cole into some sort of smoking gun. This is really bad journalism.
+5 # librarian1984 2017-06-09 06:41
The Intercept has been a good source. Why do we all have to jump to conclusions within 5 seconds?

Let's wait to hear what Greenwald says. I think he's earned that.
+1 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-06-09 13:31
Greenwald is not talking and has not written anything in a while. Here's a good piece on the Intercept. The real power behind the Intercept is not Greenwald. He was allowed to be the front man for a while. But now the orders come from the funder, Pierre Omidyar, the Ebay/Paypal billionaire. He's been hiring writers for the Intercept, not Greenwald.

Check this out --

"Do Not Trust The Intercept or How To Burn A Source"
+3 # dickbd 2017-06-09 18:59
Well, I agree with you, but I'm not ready to give up on The Intercept. Just the fact that they have Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald gives them credibility, in my opinion.

I can see getting rid of these two guys, though. Protecting sources have to be their number one priority, and they did that pretty well with Snowden.
0 # Lowflyin Lolana 2017-06-12 05:21
they went after Tulsi Gabbard who I feel has spoken up about some important hard truths....I stopped reading them so much then, but I did check back for this story...which really baffled me.
+19 # jeffsyrop 2017-06-08 20:09
I so appreciate the work you're doing, Mr. Kiriakou. Reality Winner is lucky that you are on her side. I hope we can help her avoid prison. What a cruel and ignorant waste that would be!
+10 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-06-09 06:32
I hope she can avoid prison, too. The document she allegedly leaked should never have been classified in the first place. It contained no sensitive information. It was all just speculation and free associations. I have a friend who works for Homeland Security and he's asked sometimes to write "what if" papers. They imagine what might happens just so that HS can talk about possible scenarios. This is the sort of thing the NSA report was. No need to classify this sort of trash and waste of taxpayer's money.
-11 # markovchhaney 2017-06-08 22:57
She's an idiot, a stooge, or an agent of the Deep State. Hero? I doubt it.
+11 # librarian1984 2017-06-09 07:09
How ironic that James Comey, who has railed (or as close to railing as human pasta can get), railed his whole career against leaks, turns out to be the leaker that led to a special prosecutor. Will his trial run concurrent with Ms. Winner's?

Comey revealed a number of things yesterday, but not only the things everyone wanted to hear.
+4 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2017-06-09 13:39
Comey's leaks are really treason. They are part of a campaign to overthrow an elected president. The campaign is run by non-elected spooks in the CIA, FBI, NSA, Democratic Party, and the Deep State.

Reality Winner's leaks (if this proves true), were of nothing important and did not threaten anyone in government.

The result -- Winner will be prosecuted and spend 10-20 years in prison. Comey will never be charged and will get a $2 million per year job for some national security contractor. That's how the system works.
0 # kcmwilson 2017-06-13 09:10
It looks possible that what she found and partly exposed is evidence that Russia manipulated the voter rolls, possibly denying the vote to potentially millions of selected voters, most likely with Democratic voting history. If true, this could actually have altered the election results in Trump's favor. This is definitely something the American public needs to know!

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.