Military and Police

In Latest Ruling, Judge Sides With Prosecution in Reality Winner Case

“The information security officer will ensure that any and all classified information is only handled by defense team members with the appropriate security clearance.”

In the latest development in the case against accused NSA leaker Reality Winner, Federal Magistrate Judge Brian K. Epps has ruled that Winner’s defense lawyers should be prohibited from speaking about information that is considered classified by the United States government.

The defense had argued that if information has been extensively reported on in the media, it should not be considered classified material any longer.  However, Judge Epps ruled that the determination of what is classified information is a function of the executive branch, not the judicial branch of the government.

Contrary to claims by Winner’s supporters, the ruling does not prohibit the defense team from using classified material in the client’s defense.  However, Judge Epps did write in his ruling that the defense team must follow strict procedures when handling classified information.  The defense team’s argument was based on the fact that they could accidentally mishandle classified material.  Epps stated that this concern was not cause for the court to ease the strict procedures required for the handling of classified information.

Both the prosecution and the defense have until the 16th of August to enter their opinions and/or objections on the proposed protective order that will set the procedures for how classified information is handled during the trial.  The order places an information security officer in charge of what information is handled and by whom.  The order will also establish a secure location in which all information must be stored and reviewed; the information security officer will ensure that any and all classified information is only handled by defense team members with the appropriate security clearance.

Defense team members with the appropriate clearances will be allowed total access to the secured location during established regular business hours.  If further access is required, they will be able to coordinate with the United States Marshals Service to arrange times and dates.  If the defense generates any notes or documents, they must be stored in the secure location.  If documents are filed with the court that contain, or could possibly contain information that would be considered classified, they must be filed under seal.

The classified information security officer will determine what portions of filings are not classified and then unseal them for public review.  When the case concludes, the information security officer will be charged with destroying any defense materials that contain classified information.

Once the protective order is in place, it creates a permanent commitment to protect any classified information under its authority.  Violating this protective order is a crime punishable by criminal prosecution.  The defendant, Reality Winner, is herself being charged with violating the protection of classified material by leaking top secret documents to a media outlet.  She faces up to ten years in prison if convicted of violating the Espionage Act.

The documents she is accused of leaking are still considered classified, even after being published by The Intercept and other media outlets.

The Air Force veteran’s trial is tentatively scheduled to begin in October.  Despite confessing to knowingly committing the crime when arrested, Winner entered a plea of not guilty at an earlier pretrial hearing.

Chris Erickson

Chris Erickson is an OpsLens Contributor and former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier. He spent over 10 years in the Army and performed multiple combat deployments, as well as various global training missions throughout the world. He is still active in the veteran community and currently works in the communications industry. Follow him @EricksonPrime on Twitter.

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