NSA leaker: I pulled a Sandy Berger to get top-secret documents out
“I wasn’t trying to be a Snowden, or anything,” accused NSA leaker Reality Winner told the FBI, according to a transcript submitted to a court and reported by Josh Gerstein at Politico. Instead of Edward Snowden, Winner took a page (pun intended) from Sandy Berger, or at least the legend of the former aide to Bill Clinton. Berger infamously stole classified material from the National Archive in 2003 during the investigation into 9/11 by stuffing them into his clothes. Allegedly, that included his socks, although both Berger and his attorney vehemently denied that detail.
Winner wasn’t wearing socks the day she stole top-secret material from her office, but she remained intrepid enough to come up with a Plan B:
The pantyhose detail is just one of a series of tawdry revelations in the Winner transcript. She leaked the document, she told FBI interrogators, because she wanted the data in the public domain as part of the debate over Russian cyber attacks on the election. “I don’t understand why this isn’t a thing,” she said, saying it made her so mad that “I guess I just didn’t care about myself at that point.”
When asked about compromising sources and methods, Winner shrugged it off:
“Did you know that if that got out, that those sources and methods could be compromised?” Garrick asked.
“If they hadn’t been already, then yes,” Winner said. “I figured that … that it didn’t matter anyway. Umm, honestly, uh, I just figured that whatever we were using had already been compromised, and that this report was just going to be like a — one drop in the bucket.”
Later in the transcript, Winner offers her motivation for the theft — the choice of TV news in her office:
The transcript hints at possible political motivations for the leak. Winner says she objected to her workplace tuning the TV to Fox News. She also had a signed photo of CNN Anchor Anderson Cooper, although she said the signature was fake.
“I wasn’t trying to be a Snowden or anything,” Winner said, referring to NSA leaker Edward Snowden and his massive disclosures of details on U.S. government surveillance. “I guess it’s just been hard at work because … I’ve filed formal complaint about them having Fox News on, you know? Uh, at least, for God’s sake, put Al Jazeera on, or a slideshow with people’s pets. I’ve tried anything to get that changed.”
It turned out that leaking top-secret information to The Intercept (which bungled it so badly that they burned Winner as their source) was a good strategy for a change. She no longer works in an office where Fox News plays all day long. Still, it’s a little tough to credit this motive when Winner’s social media output included declarations of support for the Iranian government and for Snowden as well. Those public statements suggest that Winner’s motives tilted more toward treason than patriotic whistleblowing, and don’t bet on prosecutors giving her a pass on those when this goes to court. Her attorneys should be working on a plea deal, and probably are, to avoid putting this in front of a jury.
Back to Sandy Berger, socks or no socks. He only got convicted of a misdemeanor, but then again, Berger wasn’t trying to leak top-secret material either. He was trying to destroy evidence that the 9/11 Commission might have used to get a better picture of the Clinton administration’s track record on al-Qaeda. Berger ended up serving no time, but lost his clearance and gave up his law license. Winner’s not important enough to get those kinds of considerations, and the leak will guarantee she gets somewhere close to the nine years that prosecutors have suggested.