President Trump has prolonged his predecessor’s “war on whistleblowers,” according to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor wanted for leaking troves of intelligence to the media in 2013.
Mr. Snowden, 35, took aim at Mr. Trump through his Twitter account Tuesday hours after fellow former NSA contractor Reality Winner pleaded guilty in federal court to unlawfully retaining and transmitting disclosing national defense information, effectively securing the administration’s first criminal leak conviction and putting Winner on the path to be handed a 63-month prison sentence.
“The war on whistleblowers continues under a new White House: the first journalistic source prosecuted under Trump, Reality Winner, was denied a defense, jailed over 5 years. Her ‘crime’? Showing us @NSAGov suspected Russia of hacking an election vendor,” Mr. Snowden wrote to his over 3.8 million Twitter followers.
Winner, 26, pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to a single count related to leaking intelligence to an online news site in 2017. Details of the government’s case against her are largely under seal, but previous reporting has made it apparent that Winner was charged in connection to her sharing a top-secret report on Russian cyberattacks with The Intercept, a website launched in 2014 initially as a platform for reporting on documents supplied by Mr. Snowden.
Winner was arrested last June and subsequently became the first personal criminally charged publicly by the Trump administration with leaking intelligence.
She initially pleaded not guilty to violating the U.S. Espionage Act, but reversed course Tuesday in lieu of facing a maximum 10 year prison sentence if convicted at trial.
Mr. Snowden was similarly charged under the Obama administration with violating the Espionage Act for leaking NSA documents five years earlier. He fled the country before being indicted, however, and has resided in Russia since being granted asylum shortly thereafter.
Eight people were publicly charged with Espionage Act violations during the Obama administration in connection with leaking to the media, including Mr. Snowden and WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning, among others, prompting complaints throughout his presidency by press freedom advocates. In 2013, for example, a report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists that cited both the Snowden and Manning cases found that “[a]ggressive prosecution of leakers of classified information and broad electronic surveillance programs deter government sources from speaking to journalists.”
A judge is reviewing Winner’s plea and is expected to hand down a sentence at a later date.