AUGUSTA, Ga. – A federal judge ordered a young woman charged with leaking classified U.S. documents to remain jailed until her trial after prosecutors argued she might possess more stolen government secrets.
Prosecutors also said Thursday that 25-year-old Reality Winner might try to flee the U.S. if released on bond. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Solari told the judge Winner had written in a notebook: “I want to burn the White House Down … find somewhere in Kurdistan to live. Ha-ha!”
Wearing an orange jumpsuit and leg shackles, Winner pleaded not guilty in U.S. district court to charges that she illegally retained and transmitted national defense information. The federal crime carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison if she’s convicted.
The former Air Force linguist, who speaks Arabic and Farsi and had a top-secret security clearance, was working as a government contractor in Augusta when she copied and mailed a classified report containing top-secret material to an online news organization, prosecutors say.
Authorities haven’t described the report or named the news outlet. But the Justice Department announced Winner’s arrest Monday as The Intercept reported it had obtained a classified National Security Agency report suggesting Russian hackers attacked a U.S. voting software supplier before last year’s presidential election. The NSA report was dated May 5, the same as the document Winner is charged with leaking.
Prosecutors warned U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Epps that Winner might have more stolen secrets. Solari said investigators have learned Winner inserted a portable hard drive in a top-secret Air Force computer before she left the military last year. She said authorities don’t know what happened to the drive or what was on it.
Solari said Winner’s laptop also contained software that could enable her to access online black-markets and buy items — such as a fake ID or passport — without revealing her identity or location.
“We don’t know how much more she knows and how much more she remembers,” Solari said. “But we do know she’s very intelligent. So she’s got a lot of valuable information in her head.”
Winner’s mother and stepfather told the judge she had no criminal history and they would use their 20-acre home in Kingsville, Texas, to finance her bond with confidence she would never run.
“Because my client is a millennial and she knows how to use technology, that’s somehow proof of evil intent,” said Titus Nichols, Winner’s defense attorney. “The government is scraping and clawing to build a mountain out of a molehill.”
Solari argued that Winner isn’t the upstanding young woman her parents believe her to be. She said that during one of her jailhouse phone calls, which were recorded, Winner said she planned to “play that card: being pretty, white and cute.”
The judge said he was worried about what happened to the portable hard drive prosecutors mentioned, as well as references Winner had made in her notebook about the Middle East. He also mentioned her written comment about burning the White House.
“Whether that’s a jest or not, it still concerns me,” Epps said.
Solari cautioned that prosecutors were not trying to link Winner to terrorism.
“The government is not in any way suggesting the defendant has become a jihadist or that she is a Taliban sympathizer,” Solari told the judge.
An FBI affidavit says Winner confessed to copying and mailing the classified report when agents searched her home last Saturday. They seized items including cellphones, computers and Winner’s passport.
Solari said Winner also confessed to her mother during a recorded jailhouse phone call, saying: “Mom, those documents. I screwed up.”