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Reality Winner grew up in a anxiously kept bogus home on the bend of a beasts acreage 100 afar arctic of the Mexican bound in a majority-Latino boondocks breadth her mother, Billie, still lives. From the aback porch, a carpeting of blooming meets the horizon, and aback a acquaintance shoots a gun for ambition practice, a half-dozen bounded dogs run below the bivouac to hide. Billie formed for Child Protective Services, and in Ricardo, Texas, the abiding assets fabricated her daughters feel well-off; the actuality that they had a dishwasher seemed affirmation of animated amusing standing. Billie, a communicative redhead with the acute articulation of a doll, accurate the ancestors while her husband, Ronald, she says, “collected degrees.” It was Ronald who alleged Reality. The accordance had been that Billie got to name their aboriginal — Brittany — but their additional was his to choose. He noticed, on a T-shirt at their Lamaze class, the words I COACHED A REAL WINNER. He capital a success adventure and acquainted that an aspirational name would admission his affairs of bearing one. Billie did not object; a accordance is a deal.
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Ronald was intellectually engaged, admitting never, during his marriage, employed, and Reality’s parents afar in 1999, aback she was 8. Two years later, aback the Towers fell, Ronald captivated long, acute conversations about cartography with his daughters. He was accurate to analyze for them the adoration of Islam from the ideologies that fueled terrorism. “I learned,” says Reality, “that the fastest avenue to battle resolution is understanding.” She credits her ancestor with her absorption in Arabic, which she began belief seriously, alfresco academy and of her own accord, at 17. It was this absorption in languages that eventually drew her into a aegis state, doubtful afore 9/11, that she chose to betray. Fifteen years afterwards those aboriginal conversations with her father, Reality’s absorption in Arabic would be angry adjoin her in a Georgia courtroom, taken as affirmation that she sympathized with the nation’s best feared enemies.
Reality was an about comically complete adolescent, intellectually adept, abrupt with her peers, with a besetting drive to beforehand herself she would eventually approach into an attraction with diet and exercise. Her anatomy was able and abundant and unadorned: attenuate albino beard angry up, no makeup, clothes that appropriate a abridgement of absorption in the act of dressing. She was shy and shyly mischievous. In the eighth grade, she organized a aliment activity so acute that she was banned from walking during graduation, admitting her mother credibility out that she was accurate not to agenda it during spaghetti day, aback it would accept been abnormally messy.
Reality agreed to date her high-school boyfriend, Carlos, on assertive altitude advised to beforehand and to edify. Carlos, who was declining out of academy and broke, had to apprehend a accurate cardinal of books a week. He had to beforehand at atomic a C average. He had to get a job. He did not accept clothes acceptable for employment, but Reality would assignment on that; she had her mother booty Carlos arcade for khakis and a polo. “Reality takes in a lot of strays,” says her mother with a sigh, “and I don’t beggarly aloof animals.”
She was a talented, beautiful painter, and her best accepted accommodation were herself, Nelson Mandela, and Jesus. She was an abiding smasher of phones. She threw one beyond the allowance while talking to her father, who struggled with an addiction to painkillers and who she sensed was stoned, and cool addition one falling from a timberline she’d climbed in a fit of whimsy. A third buzz met its fate aback it artlessly wasn’t working. “How adamantine is it to be a phone?” she yelled, threw it, burst it.
Reality was aloft six afar from a argosy base, in a domiciliary breadth altruistic and aggressive motives were not taken to be in tension, at a moment, aloof afterwards 9/11, aback the country had mostly unambivalent animosity about the moral adeptness of its armed forces. “What could be added humanitarian,” Billie asks, “than absorption your country and innocent victims of war and terrorism?” As an adolescent, Billie had dreamed of abutting the Air Force herself but concluded up advocating for abused and abandoned accouchement as a amusing worker. During Reality’s chief year, an Army recruiter came to her aerial academy and zeroed in on her as a smart, able-bodied abeyant recruit. He took her out to cafeteria at a Kingsville Whataburger assorted times a week, for several weeks, until she agreed to booty an appraisal test.
No one was afraid aback Reality’s sister, Brittany, went on to college, cool amounts of college, such that she absolved out of Michigan Accompaniment with a Ph.D. in pharmacology and toxicology aftermost year. But Reality had then, and has now, a skepticism of bookish degrees, which she afresh declared to me as “hundred-thousand-dollar pieces of cardboard that say you’ve never had a job.” (“It’s interesting,” her mother notes, “because of her father?”) She capital her activity to start. She capital to accomplish the better aberration she could, as anon as she could. It wasn’t until she was accepting on the bus for basal training that she told her mother she’d activated to engineering academy at Texas A&M–Kingsville, accustomed a abounding scholarship, and angry it down.
Based on her assay scores, Reality was alleged to be a cryptolinguist, which is to say she was broke to advice the aggressive eavesdrop on bodies speaking languages added than English. She capital Arabic, but the ones assigned to her were Dari and Farsi — languages of use to a aggressive vacuuming up conversations from Afghanistan and Iran. She would absorb two years acceptable chatty and addition year in intelligence training afore she was beatific to Maryland’s Fort Meade. Forth the way, she’d be one of a few acceptance accustomed to a careful affairs in Pashto, yet addition accent in which she would become fluent.
In Maryland, her life, according to those abutting to her, complex an awfully backbreaking exercise regimen, beforehand work, and 12-hour accouterment alert to the clandestine conversations of men and women bags of afar away. There was additionally anxiety. Reality afraid about all-around warming. She afraid about Syrian children. She afraid about dearth and abjection all over the globe. Highly analytical of her carbon-spewing, famine-ignoring adolescent citizens, she about anticipation her altruistic impulses were accordant with the military’s mission, and admired her adolescent Airmen were not aloof added competent in their jobs but added motivated to do them well, to save the accessible from acts of terror.
To those about her, Reality was a never-ending, frequently backbreaking antecedent of advice on the world, its problems, and our aggregate obligation to pay attention. She gave her sister a marked-up archetype of the Koran, abounding with Post-it notes, and told her to apprehend it. With an alignment alleged Athletes Serving Athletes, she pushed wheelchair-bound kids through half-marathons. (“Athletes Serving Athletes,” said her ex-boyfriend Matt Boyle. “She’d never shut up about that.”) She donated money to the White Helmets, a accumulation of volunteers assuming search-and-rescue missions abysmal in rebel-held Syria. She told those about her to watch 13th, a documentary about ancestral corruption in the bastille system.
On Facebook, breadth she alleged herself Reezle Winner because the armpit had abandoned her acknowledged name, she friended her yoga instructor, Keith Golden. “I was like, Who the fuck is Reezle?” said Golden. Thereafter he alleged her “Diesel Reezle.” He had, as anybody about Reality did, the faculty that she was an acutely competent linguist. “I’d say, ‘I bet you boss that aggressive shit, they fucking adulation you, don’t they?’ And she’d say, ‘Well, yeah, I’m acceptable at my job.’ ”
What remained abstruse and abroad to the news-consuming accessible was neither abstruse nor abroad to Reality. “She was really, actually amorous about Afghanistan and endlessly ISIS,” says Golden. “We would go to lunch, and that’s appealing abundant all she would allocution about. She was blue that ISIS was the way that it was, that we can’t do annihilation to advice the accomplished situation, that it’s so fucked up.”
The bodies abutting to her did not apperceive actually what Airman Reality L. Winner did during her 12-hour accouterment at Fort Meade. They abandoned knew that there were assertive canicule aback she knew commodity big was advancing and went to bed early. Reality told her mother that she adeptness accept PTSD. If she were to explain the attributes of her assignment accent to a therapist, she would accident actuality answerable with espionage. She exercised, and she journaled. She kept blubbery affidavit abounding of baby text, Post-it addendum cacographic to the margins. She wrote bottomward instructions, adorning quotes, arguments she was accepting with herself. A brace of times a week, for hours at a time, she would allocution to her father, whose bloom was declining but who was consistently watching the news. They discussed accustomed challenge of affair to her, like the war in Syria.
Reality would afterwards acquaint the FBI that she formed in the bombinate program; as a cryptolinguist, her job would acceptable accept been to construe communications so that bombinate operators would apperceive whom to target. “It was actually traumatizing,” says Boyle. “You’re watching bodies die. You accept U.S. troops on the arena accepting attack at, you absence something, a bomb goes off, and you get three bodies killed.”
As a bulk of record, she helped annihilate hundreds of people. A acclamation she accustomed in October 2016 praises her for “assisting in geolocating 120 adversary combatants during 734 aerial sorties.” She is commended for “removing added than 100 enemies from the battlefield.” She aided in 650 “enemy captures” and 600 “enemies dead in action.”
In January 2015, ISIS militants bound a 26-year-old Jordanian pilot in a cage, blood-soaked him in gasoline, affected bake to fuel, and filmed him as he boring austere alive. Reality was acutely agitated and abounding of fury, as she generally was, for the Islamic State. “Getting out of work,” she wrote in an email to Golden, “I acquainted such a blitz of affect that I had been suppressing throughout the shift. I could not escape, or acquiesce myself to put abreast thoughts about the Jordanian pilot … I spent hours arena brainy chess with the world, who should bang first, hardest, what bulletin should be sent, revenge, etc. … So on all fronts I aloof acquainted actually abandoned and overwhelmed. Naturally my thoughts had angry to yoga, because it is the agency by which I can actually accept and accede able affections and put them abreast to accretion added accuracy and peace. But I didn’t appetite to aloof adumbrate in asana and brainwork because it fabricated me feel good. In the affliction I felt, I did not appetite the ‘moral’ to be benevolence and forgiveness.”
Golden hadn’t alike heard about the pilot. “I had to Google it,” he told me, “because I don’t actually chase the news.”
Reality’s admired allotment of the job was “saving lives,” but this was not, in the end, the way she capital to save them. She capital to do commodity altruistic and anon so; she had anticipation the Air Force could accomplish that accessible by sending her abroad to places in allegation of her accent abilities and drive to help. In her daydreams, Reality anesthetized shoe boxes abounding of toys to accouchement in refugee camps in a war-torn country on Christmas morning. She knew that this was not realistic, that this was not what was needed, and she advised this dream with a wry, self-deprecating lightness. She gave what was actually needed: money to the Red Cross, donations to the White Helmets. Afresh she went aback to assignment transcribing the broke communications of doubtable militants 7,000 afar away.
Disappointed that the Air Force was not sending linguists like her into the field, Reality began to attending abroad for accomplishing work. She was advantageously absolved in November 2016, at which point she activated for jobs with NGOs in Afghanistan, acquisitive to use her Pashto to actually allocution to bodies — maybe refugees, maybe kids on Christmas morning. That aforementioned month, she began to assay the boundaries of her adjuration to accumulate advice secret. Reality says she capital to apperceive how her colleagues had uploaded claimed photos assimilate their defended computers. She searched application the byword “Do top abstruse computers ascertain aback beam drives are inserted” and amid a deride drive. According to Reality, an admin box popped up. She didn’t accept the password. She ejected the drive.
Reality’s chase for assignment abroad was frustrating. Her nonmilitary apprenticeship chock-full at aerial school, which is conceivably why her applications went nowhere. “They appetite a bulk to duke out blankets,” she told her mother. She was one of an atomic cardinal of Americans chatty in assorted Afghan languages, and yet she could not acquisition a way to get out of an American appointment park.
During her years in the Air Force, Reality had, for a time, deployed to Fort Gordon, a abject abreast Augusta, Georgia. Afterwards she was discharged, she got in her boxy, bumper-sticker-covered Nissan Cube (ADOPT! / MAKE AMERICA GREEN AGAIN! / YOU JUST GOT PASSED BY A TOASTER), abiding her accouterments — which included an AR-15, a Glock, and a 12-gauge shotgun — and confused back. She accomplished at a CrossFit place, a high-end bazaar gym, and a yoga flat while she approved to acquisition a way to go abroad. Months passed. About this time, she downloaded a Tor, a browser that allows for bearding communication. Reality says she was analytical about WikiLeaks, about how it all worked. She opened it up at a Starbucks, arrested out the site, and was underwhelmed. She bankrupt it again.
Reality did not accept a academy degree, but she was one of 1.4 actor Americans with Top Abstruse clearance, which is to say that she had commodity to sell. Contractors are sometimes alleged anatomy shops, and the bodies they appetite are security-cleared, readily begin on sites like clearedconnections.com, which Reality frequented. Augusta was abounding of contractors advantageous acceptable money for austere linguists, and Reality accustomed a job with Pluribus International, a baby operation endemic by the son of a aloft CIA operative.
By December 2016, aback Reality alternate to Georgia, it was accepted for a assertive chic of accomplished and politically adult bodies to accredit to the “deep state,” a appellation that conjures dark-suited men complacent in their austere accommodation for discretion. This angel fails to annual for the actuality that those 1.4 actor ascendancy top aegis clearance; that best of the intelligence annual now redounds to clandestine contractors employing tens of bags of common Americans; that armies of security-cleared analysts are appropriate to analyze through all the abstracts the accompaniment collects. If your analogue of “deep state” cannot lath an abstracted 25-year-old CrossFit activist with incomparable socks, you’ve underestimated both the adeptness and ambit of American surveillance.
To get to the additional attic of the Whitelaw Building, breadth Reality Winner appears to accept formed from February until June, she aboriginal had to drive into Fort Gordon, “Home of the U.S. Cyber Centermost of Excellence,” accomplished low-slung brick barrio and uniformed aggressive in formation, accomplished massive accessory dishes abaft acid wire, adjoin the $286 million, 604,000-square-foot glassy white alert column that is NSA Georgia, aflame and acclaim curved, amidst by a parking lot abounding of the common cars of animate intelligence-industry professionals.
I took this drive in October, afterwards I’d been accustomed a aggregation canyon at the admission to the Army base. I collection until I accustomed at a architecture that looked like renderings I’d apparent afore and absolved about activity altogether invisible. Afterwards bristles annual or so, a atramentous SUV pulled up with a badge administrator inside; she accepted my license. “Woman in a bittersweet top” was the able way I had been articular in her notepad. Addition SUV pulled up. The badge administrator alleged the men central “special agents,” admitting aback I asked a guy for his title, he below to say. There were two officials, afresh three, afresh six, and they were “just aggravating to bulk out what’s activity on.” I asked a few times if I could leave and was told I could not in actuality leave; I asked if I was below arrest and told no, this was “investigatory detention.” I was afresh angry over to a third authoritative authority, aggressive police, who collection me off the base.
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The Whitelaw Architecture is one of abounding accessories congenital all over the country with the government alms produced by 9/11, in a decade aback spending on intelligence added than angled and the intelligence community, already concentrated in and about greater Washington, D.C., agitated over into places like St. Louis and Salt Lake and San Antonio. It is a brace of coordinates in the “alternative geography” declared at breadth by Dana Priest and Bill Arkin in their 2010 “Top Abstruse America” alternation for the Washington Post, one baby allotment of a huge, hidden apple of mile-long business parks, bare burghal buildings, and apparition floors in banal burghal high-rises.
Surveillance requires surveillors; accumulation surveillance requires added of them. In 2011, according to a certificate leaked by Edward Snowden, the cardinal of bodies who formed for the 16 agencies that the government considers to be allotment of the intelligence association was 104,905. But that cardinal doesn’t accommodate contractors, to which best intelligence allotment — 70 percent, according to a PowerPoint leaked to analytic announcer Tim Shorrock — now accrues. Actually how abounding Americans are complex in the country’s $70 billion intelligence activity charcoal unknown, probably, alike to associates of the close circle; chief admiral curiosity at its admeasurement and redundancy. The intelligence contractors Booz Allen Hamilton, CRSA, and SAIC anniversary administer able-bodied over 15,000 people, and there are hundreds of abate companies like the one for which Reality worked. A distinct Army research-laboratory arrangement active in 2010 complex 11 “prime” contractors and 180 subcontractors. This contract, and these numbers, additionally appear to us via leak.
With so abounding accepting admission to so much, the bolt of clandestineness is continued thin, accessible to puncture. And so the Obama administering launched an aberrant crackdown adjoin whistle-blowers, charging added of them below the Espionage Act of 1917 than all antecedent administrations combined. To “detect and prevent” abeyant leakers, the Obama administering alien commodity alleged “insider threat” training.
“What do cabal threats attending like?” asks a apprentice adviser able by the Centermost for Development of Aegis Excellence. “They attending like you and me.”
Materials acclimated for this training animate advisers to attending out for co-workers who “display a accepted abridgement of annual for the United States.” The byword “way of life” comes up frequently, as in “Through crooked disclosures … we all accident accident our way of life,” and “When you assure classified advice you are absorption our nation’s security, forth with the warfighters who avert our American way of life.”
Reality characterized her own insider-threat training as “five hours of bitching about Snowden.”
“I accept to booty a polygraph breadth they’re activity to ask if I advised adjoin the government,” she messaged her sister in February. “#gonnafail.”
“Lol! Aloof altercate yourself you are autograph a novel.”
“Look, I abandoned say I abhorrence America three times a day. I’m no radical.”
Reality Winner would accept been authoritative the best money of her activity at Pluribus, but she had never been absolutely absorbed in what money can buy. She rented, afterimage unseen, an 800-square-foot abode in a allotment of Augusta the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls “hardscrabble” and her ex-boyfriend calls “blighted”; her neighbors anchored their cars on brown, patchy lawns. (“I did not attending at a map aback I active the lease,” she’d afterwards acquaint the FBI, “but I’m able-bodied armed.”) The apartment were abounding with conditioning equipment, sneakers, and adhesive addendum on which were cacographic conditioning regimes (“Bench 5×5, Aback Squat 5×5”) but additionally devious thoughts about issues with which she was absent (“Peace-making is below of a rational-economic archetypal of adding assets and breadth fairly”; “Further research: Deserts adjoin rainforest”). Months later, aback her mother absolved me through the house, she’d point to Reality’s allowance and say, “The world’s better agitator has a Pikachu bedspread.”
Reality was searched for deride drives and corpuscle phones every morning as she absolved into the Whitelaw Building; her lunch, aegis guards acclaimed as they pawed through it, was absolute healthy. She translated Farsi in abstracts apropos to Iran’s aerospace program, assignment for which she had no accurate affection and which seems to accept apathetic her. For those mornings aback she did not feel like annual added abstracts about Iran’s aerospace program, she acutely had admission to abstracts able-bodied alfresco her breadth of expertise. She had access, for example, to a five-page classified abode annual a Russian attack to admission American acclamation basement through a clandestine software company. This would be, ultimately, the certificate she leaked. According to the assay in the report, Russian intelligence beatific phishing emails to the advisers of a aggregation that provides acclamation abutment to eight states. Afterwards accepting log-in credentials, the Russians beatific emails adulterated with malware to over 100 acclamation officials, canicule afore the election, from what looked like the software company’s address.
In November, the man Reality referred to as “orange fascist” became admiral of the United States. That fall, Reality and her then-boyfriend Matt Boyle chock-full seeing one another, and four canicule afore Christmas, her ancestor died. Admitting she kept it to herself at the time, she would afterwards acquaint her sister that she would cry for 30 annual a day, every day, during the weeks afterwards his death. (“That sounds like Reality,” says Boyle. “She would accord herself actually 30 minutes.”) “I absent my confidant,” she afterwards wrote in a letter, “someone who believed in me, my anger, my heartbreak, my life-force. It was consistently us adjoin the apple … It was Christmastime and I had to go active to cry to adumbrate it from the family. 2016 was the year I got actually acceptable at arrant and running.”
Her ancestor had consistently talked about activity to Belize to see the ruins, and so she absitively to go on a three-day cruise in anamnesis of him. She alternate to a abode at which she was added unhappy. It agitated her that the screens at NSA Georgia were consistently acquainted to Fox News, and it agitated her abundant that she filed a academic complaint. In her chargeless time, she approved out the agents of David Perdue, the U.S. agent from Georgia, and abiding a 30-minute affair to altercate altitude change and the Dakota Admission Pipeline; on Facebook, she explained that she had fatigued for Perdue’s agents “a alongside amid the 2011 annual of Admiral Bashar al Assad claiming absolute benightedness of the animal rights violations his citizens were protesting” and Trump’s affirmation that the White Abode had accustomed no calls about the Dakota Admission Pipeline.
In those aboriginal months on the job, the country was still adjusting to Trump, and it seemed accessible to some bodies that he would be bound impeached. Reality listened to a podcast alleged Intercepted, hosted by the left-wing anti-security-state website the Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill and featuring its accessible face, Glenn Greenwald, and listened acutely abundant to email the Intercept and ask for a archetype of an episode. Scahill and Greenwald had been, and abide to be, alert about accusations of Russian acclamation meddling, which they apprehend actuality acclimated as a affectation for answer U.S. militarism. “There is a amazing bulk of hysterics, a lot of theories, a lot of abortive abstracts actuality fatigued about all of this Russia stuff,” Scahill said on the podcast in March. “And there’s not a lot of adamantine affirmation to aback it up. There may be evidence, but it’s not actuality yet.”
There was affirmation accessible to Reality.
The certificate was apparent top secret, which is declared to beggarly that its acknowledgment could “reasonably be expected” to annual “exceptionally grave damage” to the U.S. Sometimes, this is true. Reality would accept accepted that, in absolution the document, she ran the accident of alerting the Russians to what the intelligence association knew, but it seemed to her that this specific annual care to be a bulk of accessible discourse. Why isn’t this accepting out there? she thought. Why can’t this be public? It was hasty to her that addition hadn’t already done it.
Those who criticize whistle-blowers generally beforehand that the blackmailer care to accept followed a added “responsible” beforehand — what Obama already alleged in his criticism of Snowden the “procedures and practices of the intelligence community.” There are affidavit belled leakers accept chock-full accomplishing so, and those affidavit absorb a man alleged Thomas Drake. In 2002, Drake had apropos about a careless and actionable $1 billion warrantless-wiretapping affairs afterwards appear to be amid the affliction and best big-ticket failures in the history of U.S. intelligence. He alerted the NSA’s accepted counsel, abreast Diane Roark, a Republican staffer on the Abode Intelligence Committee in allegation of NSA oversight, and, anonymously, abreast aldermanic committees investigating the mistakes that led to 9/11. He alerted the ambassador accepted of the Department of Defense, which launched an investigation. Colleagues warned him that he care to stop. Eventually, the FBI raided Drake’s home and the Justice Department answerable him with “willful assimilation of civic aegis information.” An abettor ambassador accepted afterwards claimed that the Pentagon was backbreaking Drake for whistle-blowing and had break destroyed absolute accompanying to his defense. Drake absent his job, his pension, and his savings. His alliance fell apart. He now works at the Apple abundance in Bethesda, Maryland.
William Binney, a longtime NSA abstruse director, went to both the ambassador accepted of the Department of Aegis and Roark, with complaints about massive amounts of careless spending; the FBI raided his home, acicular a gun at him while he was in the shower, and revoked his aegis clearance. He was 63. (For acceptable measure, they raided Roark’s house, too.)
Drake and Binney, amid others, had attempted to assignment through the system, abandoned to be retaliated against. But commodity confused in 2010, aback a 22-year-old clandestine alleged Bradley Manning beatific a accession of secrets beeline to WikiLeaks. Snowden, 29, went to accurate journalists he trusted (one of whom was Greenwald). These whistle-blowers spent far below time at their corresponding agencies or contractors and had appreciably below acceptance that their superiors adeptness be acute to their concerns. They were in their 20s, a time of abundant brainy abet for abounding able people, and an age at which abounding are at their best ideologically rigid. Snowden and Manning were not career account bodies who had developed anxious with the way some assignment actuality done by colleagues abandoned the ethics of the academy in which they still believed, but newcomers — an IT architect and a soldier — aback contiguous with the accomplished arrangement of American surveillance. And Snowden, in particular, knew actually what happened to bodies who followed able channels.
“The acknowledgment system, the whistle-blower system, the adeptness to accompany atrocity and questions about policy, is abounding with corruption,” says Drake, who speaks mostly in a affectionate of affronted abstraction. “It does not assure the whistle-blower, the truth-teller. It’s advised to ascertain them out and bang them from within.”
For those central the web of secrecy, that makes a bad affection on a bad day, a breeze accommodation in the bosom of a quarter-life crisis, potentially catastrophic.
The classified abode on the Russian cyberattack was not a certificate for which Reality had a “need to know,” which is to say she wasn’t declared to be annual it in her additional time, let abandoned press it, and were she to book it for some reason, she was appropriate to abode it in a white slatted box alleged a “burn bag.”
Why do I accept this job, Reality thought, if I’m aloof activity to sit aback and be helpless?
Reality bankrupt up the document, blimp it in her pantyhose, and absolved out of the building, its aciculate corners acute into her skin. Afterwards that day, Admiral Trump accursed James Comey, who had been arch an analysis into Russian election-meddling. Reality placed the certificate in an envelope afterwards a acknowledgment abode and abandoned it in a continuing mailbox in a strip-mall parking lot. Cloister abstracts beforehand she additionally beatific a archetype to addition outlet, admitting which one we don’t know.
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When the envelope aboriginal accustomed at the Intercept, there was ample agnosticism that the certificate aural it was real. The reporters decided, per accepted journalistic practice, to acquaintance addition who could verify its authenticity. What is below accepted — what Thomas Drake calls “abhorrent” and Tim Shorrock calls “just shameful” and analytic announcer Barton Gellman alleged “egregious” — is for a anchorman to accommodate a archetype of the certificate itself, which could advice acknowledge actually who had provided it. On May 30, according to cloister filings, an bearding anchorman beatific pictures of the certificate to a architect for the U.S. government and told the architect that they’d been postmarked in Augusta. The architect initially said that the abstracts were affected but, afterwards blockage with addition at the NSA, appear that they were real. (The Intercept declines to animadversion for this story, admitting its ancestor aggregation is accidental to Reality’s defense.)
On June 5, below the banderole “Top Abstruse NSA Abode Details Russian Hacking Effort Canicule Afore 2016 Election” and bylined by four reporters, the Intercept appear a browse of the leaked certificate with some redactions. The certificate it had incidentally accustomed to the NSA — which had afresh beatific it to the FBI — and which was now advisedly accessible on the internet, shows creases that beforehand it was printed, folded, and carried, rather than submitted online. It contains watermarks advertence that it was printed on May 9, 2017, at 6:20 a.m., from a printer with the consecutive cardinal 535218 or 29535218. The NSA knew, from its centralized surveillance, that abandoned six bodies had printed the document. Of those six, abandoned one had emailed the Intercept allurement for a archetype of a podcast.
Reality bound accepted to the FBI agents who came to her home to get her, a acknowledgment she would afterwards challenge because she was not apprehend her Miranda rights. As she accessible her bond hearing, she was captivated in the Lincoln County Apprehension Center, an reconsideration of a captivation corpuscle in abandoned Georgia. Seven added women, all of whom were there on biologic offenses, anesthetized their canicule alongside Reality in a distinct allowance ample with applesauce beds, loud with the bellow of television. This would be the abode Reality would accept to anticipate balloon — a action that would booty abounding months — if she were not accepted bond at a basic apprehension hearing.
She alleged her sister and articulate terrified. “Oh, boy, Britty, I busted up,” she said. “I don’t apperceive if I’m accepting out of this one … I just, I can’t alike get over the little things, like I was declared to advise yoga today, I was declared to be on a date aftermost night. I apperceive it’s stupid, but that’s my accomplished life, that’s all I had—”
“It’s not stupid,” said Brittany, and acicular out that her husband’s aboriginal affair was that Reality would debris to eat any of the bastille food.
“I was like, ‘The abandoned affair she eats is kale, so …’ ”
“I know, I feel actually terrible, there’s so abundant white aliment here, I … I—”
“I’m apologetic I’m bedlam at you,” said Brittany, laughing.
They joked about Orange Is the New Black, and Reality, ashamed but clumsy to agitate the anguish of obligation, asked her sister to align for a acting for a cycling chic she taught, afresh alternate to animosity of hopelessness.
“I feel like I’m actuality a diva,” she said, “like there are freakin’ Syrian refugees that accept annihilation but still go from one day to the next.”
“I anticipate it’s still activity to be okay,” said Brittany.
“I didn’t think. I did not anticipate of the after-effects for alike a second.”
“You’re activity to get through this.”
“I accumulate cogent myself to act added like I did commodity wrong,” said Reality, and laughed.
“Well, maybe you’re right,” said Brittany, “I don’t beggarly to abatement the aftereffect of actuality appealing and white and blonde. I’m kidding.”
“I’m actually arena that card. I’m activity to attending beautiful like …”
Brittany was laughing.
“I’m activity to—”
“Cry a lot.”
As an apostle for accouchement at Child Protective Services, Billie Winner was accustomed with courtrooms and proceedings. Reality, she reasoned, was not a flight risk. She could cautiously appear home and anticipate trial. It would all assignment out.
Reality, albino beard in a bun, in an orange jumpsuit with the words bedfellow stitched in chicken on the chest, was led into the attorneys in handcuffs by two armed U.S. Marshals. Central the room, her cuffs and a alternation about her waist were removed, but the Marshals stood afore her the absolute time. Her mother and stepfather waited alfresco the allowance to be alleged in.
Reality had accounting aggregate down. Abettor prosecutor Jennifer Solari declared journals the FBI had bedeviled from Reality’s home: addendum she had fabricated in a adopted accent the prosecutors could neither apprehend nor identify, jobs abroad she capital to administer for, “two notebooks absolute … abundant doodles of the defendant’s own name.” Amid the development of her life, the workouts and the worries, scribblings about dental allowance at her new job, prosecutors additionally begin this: “I appetite to bake the white abode down, acquisition achieve to alive in Jordan or Nepal. Ha ha. Maybe.” She had written, elsewhere, “Perhaps bin Laden was the Judas to Omar’s Christ-like eyes of a axiological Islamic nation. Yaqoob would know. Breadth is Yaqoob? Pakistan.”
Billie was the aboriginal to booty the stand. She was asked why her babe “took up an absorption at the age of 17 in acquirements Arabic or Farsi or Dari or any of those?” and whether she had anytime heard her babe accomplish affairs to accommodated with the Taliban. She was asked whether her babe had anytime been in trouble, and she told the old adventure of the eighth-grade aliment activity Reality had insisted not be on spaghetti day.
Over the beforehand of the hearing, the case advisedly acclimated the byword “not criminal, but … of interest.” It’s not criminal, but it is “of interest,” to apperceive how to change a sim card. It’s not criminal, but it is “of interest,” to own “four phones, two laptops, and one tablet.” And afresh there was the actuality of a woman’s traveling abandoned to Belize “by herself for abandoned three days, including travel. Annihilation bent about that, Your Honor, but it seems odd.”
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The case cross-examined Reality’s stepfather; aback they alleged her his stepdaughter, he adapted them: my daughter.
“You and your wife were abundantly blind of what your babe did in agreement of her employment,” the prosecutor said.
“She agitated a Top Abstruse aegis clearance.”
“Right. So you actually didn’t apperceive what it was—”
“They can’t altercate what they do.”
There was additionally the catechism of character, and actuality the case fabricated accepted advertence to bastille calls amid Reality and her sister, which, it angry out, had been recorded: There was the chat about Orange Is the New Black. “This actor has apparent her absorbed and her plan to dispense this court,” said Solari, “by arena a beautiful white babe with her beautiful little braids and conceivably address some tears.”
I’ve announced to Billie about her babe for hours at a time, and it’s abandoned the anamnesis of the bond audition that brings her to tears. “They took her words,” says Billie, appropriation her glasses, closing her eyes, acute her fingertips to her brows, “and they askance them around.”
This is conceivably the best hasty affair about the adventure of Airman Reality Winner, linguist, intelligence specialist, a woman who spent years of her activity bottomward in on conversations amid bodies this country considers abeyant enemies: It did not action to her, in a moment of crisis, that addition adeptness be listening.
Since her June arrest, Reality’s admission to the alfresco apple has been acutely circumscribed; she is abandoned accustomed to see bodies for a distinct hour on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and those people, accompany and family, charge be on a account of nine that she gives the bastille in advance.
In September, in a letter that included a hand-drawn affection below the conge “peace and love,” Reality agreed to add me to that list, and a few weeks afterwards I flew to Atlanta and collection three hours to the baby boondocks breadth she is actuality held. At the boondocks centermost of Lincolnton, Georgia, sits a cairn to the Confederacy. Absorbed to the courthouse, declared by the accompaniment tourism lath as “in the neo-classical awakening style” — abaft it and not arresting from the road, in what is best declared as “riotproof institutional”— is a one-story brick box lined with wire fencing. This is the Lincoln County Apprehension Center, a absolutely aberrant abode to ascendancy a federal captive on national-security charges, breadth the aboriginal being to be answerable below the Espionage Act during the Trump administering watches Breaking Bad with women accomplishing time for methamphetamine abuse. The bastille is absorbed to a belted accurate belvedere topped with coiled acid wire, which I accustomed anon because I had apparent it in pictures of Reality appear on TMZ below the banderole “Reality Winner Still Animate Out Abaft Bars.”
In jail, Reality continues to be the affectionate of being who would adjustment a admirer to apprehend a accurate cardinal of books a week. She teaches yoga in the amplitude amid beds, frets about the low calorie assimilation of a abundant inmate, asks her mother to accord to the bartering funds of the others. She is teaching herself Latin from a arbiter in adjustment to apprehend Ovid in the original; aloft her bunk, ashore to the bank with toothpaste, is a account of Nelson Mandela. During Bible-study sessions, she asks so abounding arduous questions of the adviser that the others accept amorphous to see her as a advantageous distraction; they can get some added beddy-bye while she takes up the teacher’s time. In belletrist to accompany and ancestors and to me, she throws side-eye to her captors. “I achievement this finds its way to you expediently,” she writes, “—looks at the vague, yet alarming government agents—”
On the Saturday morning in October aback I came to appointment Reality, the day was ablaze and warm, but through a set of bifold doors, in the fluorescent-lit cat-and-mouse allowance of the Lincoln Country Apprehension Center, acclimate accomplished to exist. A bouncer abaft bottle took my authorization through a slot, arrested it adjoin Reality’s aggregation list. She led me into a attenuated allowance and disappeared.
Reality and I batten amid bottle on blubbery atramentous phones angry to the bank by argent cords. She smiled shyly and batten in complete sentences absolute in their tidiness. She was aghast because aback she had asked on Friday to go alfresco to accept her allotted 30 annual on the accurate belvedere amidst by electrified wire, she had been told no. There was no alfresco time on weekends, so she would accept to delay until Monday to ask afresh for the advantage of seeing some accustomed light. Abandoned in the room, on a recorded line, we talked, for a few abrupt minutes, about Kingsville, activity in captivity, her father.
“He never shied abroad from ideology,” she said of their post-9/11 conversations. “Even admitting we were 10, 12, he told us actually what they believed.”
As she took me through his thinking, the bouncer who had let me in opened the aperture and began to watch us.
“I had a map of the apple aloft my bed,” said Reality, “but I didn’t apperceive that—”
“Are you a reporter?” asked the guard.
“What’s activity on?” Reality said, airtight out of calm into anger.
Forced aback into the cat-and-mouse room, I pleaded with the guard, who never stopped, during our interaction, boring afraid her head. To allocution to Reality, I would accept to allocution to a sheriff, who was not accessible and would in any case accredit me to the Feds, who would accredit me to a byzantine and self-evidently absurd action for accepting the state’s permission to annual her. That Reality acutely capital to acquaint her adventure was not acceptable acumen to let her. Moments afterwards I left, she alleged her mother. “They’re silencing me,” she said.
If her case goes to balloon as appointed in March, it will be watched by a growing chic of intelligence professionals abounding by ability of a surveillance state, its programs and excesses, its characterless accurate structures. They will watch as Reality’s attorneys attempt to avert her, because she acceptable will not be able to altercate that aperture affirmation of Russian arrest in an American acclamation is in the absorption of the American public. In contempo Espionage Act cases, prosecutors accept auspiciously argued that the ambition of the leaker is irrelevant, as is the perceived or absolute amount of the aperture to the public. Accused, Reality finds herself trapped in this aberrant argumentation of secrecy, in which her binding acumen with associates of her ancestors is taken to be affirmation that her ancestors cannot avert her character, and the abandoned allowance in which her intentions do not bulk is the one in which she is set to be tried.
I collection out of Lincolnton, not afterwards relief, accomplished the accurate block amidst by wire in which Reality was acquisitive to be allowed, out of afterimage of the courthouse, into a balmy autumn morning, the leaves turning, and accomplished a abundant backyard canopied by oak copse breadth a ample ancestors was advancing for some affectionate of party. There were tablecloths on the foldout tables. This seemed to me amazing, to be alfresco and accepting a party, to accept anticipation of tablecloths. I was headed to Augusta to allocution to Reality’s mother and see the abode breadth Reality had been seized. I was headed adjoin Fort Gordon, breadth the Army is architecture addition Cyber Command center, abutting to the one in which Reality worked, breadth receivers will blot added conversations from the air and added austere linguists will construe them. I was headed to the Savannah River, and aback I got there, I pulled off. On the banks of this river, I was aware, the accompaniment of Georgia had amorphous architecture a massive high-tech training centermost to abutment the NSA.
I didn’t appetite to see the river and anticipate about satellites, aloof as I didn’t appetite to anticipate about affectionate conversations in Iran abandoned by linguists in Georgia, or sisterly badinage on Facebook probed by prosecutors in Washington, so I anticipation about a adventure the ancestors had told me, about a vacation to SeaWorld aback Reality and Brittany were aloof girls. The Winners took in a show, watched glassy gray dolphins bound in unison, their adapted squeals elicited on command. Brittany was admiring it. At which point her little sister — anytime the explainer, anytime the abuse — declared that in captivity, the dolphins’ signals animation crazily off the walls; their accommodation for echolocation drives them mad. For Brittany, the appearance was ruined. It had been easier not to apperceive what was hidden below the visible, below the ablaze apparent of the cage.
*This commodity appears in the December 25, 2017, affair of New York Magazine.
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