Former NSA contractor Reality Winner gets 63 months in prison — the longest ever for an illegal leak of national defense secrets

  • Reality Winner, a former high-level national security contractor, is sentenced to more than five years in prison.
  • Her 63-month sentence is the longest ever received by a defendant for a leak of national defense information to the media, U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine said.
  • U.S. prosecutors said Winner had researched how to surreptitiously remove top secret information, then did precisely that and passed along a print-out of a classified report to a news outlet.
This June 2017 file photo released by the Lincoln County (Ga.) Sheriff's Office, shows Reality Winner. 
Lincoln County (Ga.) Sheriff's Office | AP
This June 2017 file photo released by the Lincoln County (Ga.) Sheriff's Office, shows Reality Winner. 

Former National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner was sentenced to more than five years in prison Thursday on charges of leaking a top secret report to a news outlet.

Her 63-month sentence is the longest ever received by a defendant for a leak of national defense information to the media, U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine said.

Winner, a 26-year-old former Air Force linguist, was the first person charged with criminal information leaks under President Donald Trump. The president has repeatedly expressed a desire to find and muzzle the leakers within the White House and his administration more broadly.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

Winner "knowingly and intentionally betrayed the trust of her colleagues and her country," Christine said in a statement following her sentencing hearing in federal court in Augusta, Georgia.

"She was the quintessential example of an insider threat."

Winner pleaded guilty in June to one count of willfully obtaining and sharing national defense information. The government and Winner's attorneys had earlier agreed on the length of the sentence.

"We're very satisfied with today's result," defense attorney Titus Nichols told CNBC. "We appreciate the thought and consideration [U.S. District Court Judge J. Randall] Hall put into his ruling."

Lead defense attorney Joe Whitley said in a statement: "Reality recognizes that actions have consequences, and that she has learned from her mistake and is prepared to accept the consequences of her actions."

Federal prosecutors said Winner repeatedly showed contempt for the U.S., and cited text messages she sent claiming to hate America.

Winner had researched how to surreptitiously remove top secret information, then did precisely that and passed along a printout of a classified report to a news outlet, prosecutors said. That outlet was later identified as national security and politics website The Intercept.

The report detailed Russia's efforts to hack into U.S. voting software suppliers and target local election officials just days before the 2016 presidential election, according to The Intercept.

"Winner's purposeful violation put our nation's security at risk," Christine said, "in a very real, very direct way" by potentially compromising U.S. sources and methods.

"This was, by no means, a victimless crime," Christine said.