Reality Winner, the ex-NSA contractor convicted of leaking a report about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, has been released from prison

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Reality Winner exits a courthouse in Augusta, Georgia, on June 8, 2017.

  • Reality Winner, a former US intelligence contractor, has been released from prison.
  • Winner was convicted in 2018 of leaking an intel report about Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
  • She’s now at a residential-reentry facility in San Antonio.
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Reality Winner, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, has been released from prison, her attorney announced on Monday.

Winner was sentenced to five years in prison in 2018. She’d been convicted of leaking a report about Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US election to The Intercept, a nonprofit publication.

Winner’s attorney, Alison Grinter Allen, said on Twitter that Winner had been released into the residential-reentry program through good behavior.

“Her release is not a product of the pardon or compassionate release process,” Allen said, “but rather the time earned from exemplary behavior while incarcerated.” Allen added that Winner had asked for privacy as she worked to “heal the trauma of incarceration and build back the years lost.”

Federal Bureau of Prisons records showed that Winner was at a residential-reentry facility in San Antonio and that she was set to be released from the program on November 23.

Federal authorities arrested Winner and charged her with Espionage Act violations after The Intercept published a report around Winner’s leaked files in 2017.

An affidavit said The Intercept had sent a member of the federal government a copy of the report Winner provided. The copy showed that the pages had been “folded and/or creased,” meaning someone had printed it before removing it from a classified space, the affidavit said.

Investigators discovered that only six people in the agency had printed the report. They later found that Winner had not only printed it but had contact with The Intercept.

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The US reportedly spied on Angela Merkel and other top European politicians with Denmark’s help

Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

  • Denmark reportedly helped the US access the calls and texts of senior European officials, including Angela Merkel.
  • Denmark held an internal investigation into its partnership with the NSA between 2012 and 2014.
  • The country’s public broadcaster reported the findings of the investigation, citing nine unnamed sources.
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Denmark’s foreign intelligence unit helped the US spy on European officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, according to a report by Danish public broadcaster Danmarks Radio (DR) on Sunday.

In 2015, the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (FE) conducted an internal investigation – code-named “Operation Dunhammer” – into its partnership with the US National Security Agency (NSA), according to the report.

The investigation found that the NSA used Danish information cables to spy on senior officials in Sweden, Norway, France, and Germany between 2012 to 2014, according to DR’s report. The report cited nine unnamed sources with classified information from FE.

The NSA accessed calls, texts, and chat messages to and from officials’ telephones, the sources told DR.

In addition to Merkel, the NSA spied on former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and former German opposition leader Peer Steinbrück, according to the DR report.

The FE and the NSA didn’t provide comment on the DR report.

A spokesperson for the German chancellery told Reuters it only became aware of the NSA spying allegations when journalists asked them about the report, and declined to comment further.

Leaks by former NSA employee Edward Snowden alleged that the NSA tapped Merkel’s phone and spied on other countries. Snowden tweeted on Sunday that President Joe Biden was “deeply involved in this scandal the first time around” as he was vice-President when the reported spying took place.

Insider contacted the White House and the NSA for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.

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The Trump-appointed NSA general counsel installed the day before Biden took office is now on leave due to a Department of Defense probe

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Michael Ellis was installed as the NSA’s general counsel just the day before President Biden was sworn in.

  • The Trump-installed General Counsel of the National Security Agency has been put on administrative leave a day after starting the role, due to a Department of Defense inspector general probe, CNN reported. 
  • Michael Ellis’s installation just before President Joe Biden took office garnered criticism that the Trump administration was trying to burrow a loyalist in a civilian position. 
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Michael Ellis, the National Security Agency general counsel who was installed just a day before President Joe Biden took office, is now on administrative leave because the Department of Defense inspector general is investigating his appointment, CNN reported. 

Last week, acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller told the head of the NSA to install Ellis as general counsel by 6 p.m. on Saturday. The next day, the agency said it was moving forward with Ellis’s installation and announced that he would start the day before Biden was sworn in. 

“Mr. Ellis accepted his final job offer yesterday afternoon. NSA is moving forward with his employment,” an NSA official told Insider on Sunday. 

National security legal experts were critical of the effort to burrow Ellis in the role only a few days before a new administration took over. 

The NSA’s general counsel position is not a political one but a civil servant role, which means it will be harder for the incoming Biden administration to fire him. However, the new president can easily reassign him to a less important job.

Read more: Biden’s inauguration is unlike any before. Photos show how his ceremony compares to those of previous presidents.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was also critical of the move and on Monday sent a letter to Miller demanding he “immediately cease” Ellis’s installation. 

“The circumstances and timing – immediately after President Trump’s defeat in the election – of the selection of Mr. Ellis, and this eleventh-hour effort to push this placement in the last three days of this administration are highly suspect,” Pelosi wrote.

On Wednesday, a DoD spokesperson told Insider they did not comment on open investigations, and an NSA spokesperson said they don’t comment on personnel matters. 

Ellis’s appointment came shortly after President-elect Joe Biden was projected to win the 2020 election in November. During that same month, the Washington Post reported that Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Jack Reed asked the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate Ellis’s appointment on the grounds of “improper political influence.”

Read more: I went inside the US Capitol’s immense security bubble to cover the most surreal presidential inauguration of my lifetime. Here’s what I saw.

“The combination of timing, comparative lack of experience of the candidate, the reported qualifications of the other finalists, and press accounts of White House involvement create a perception that political influence or considerations may have played an undue role in a merit-based civil service selection process,” Warner and Reed wrote in a letter in November, CNN reported. 

Ellis’s selection also came around when nearly a dozen senior government officials were fired, forced to resign, or resigned in protest, with outgoing President Donald Trump carrying out a political purge at the Defense Department. 

Ellis served as chief counsel to Rep. Devin Nunes, who is a Trump loyalist. The concerns over his installation relate to helping Nunes get access to intelligence documents in 2017 that aided Trump in politically attack Democrats, the Post reported. 

 

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Trump’s acting secretary of defense is working to install a Trump loyalist as the top lawyer for the NSA just days before the president leaves office

Christopher Miller
Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller at a Veterans Day wreath-laying ceremony led by President Donald Trump at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, November 11, 2020.

  • Trump’s acting secretary of defense told the head of the National Security Agency to install a Trump loyalist as the top lawyer at the agency by 6 pm on Saturday.
  • NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone did not honor Christopher Miller’s request by the deadline.  
  • Nakasone was not in favor of Ellis’s selection and is working to delay his placement. 
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Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller told the head of the National Security Agency to install a Trump loyalist as the top lawyer at the agency, The Washington Post reported.

Miller ordered that Michael Ellis be appointed as general counsel by 6 pm on Saturday, but NSA Director Gen. Paul Nakasone did not follow that order as of the deadline, according to CNN

The Post reported Ellis was tapped for the job back in November by Pentagon General Counsel Paul C. Ney Jr., but he still hasn’t taken the position and has to finish administrative procedures.

His selection came a shortly after Biden was projected to win the presidential election. Around the same time, nearly a dozen senior government officials were fired, forced to resign, or resigned in protest, including a political purge at the Defense Department by President Donald Trump.

Several sources told The Post that Nakasone was not in favor of Ellis’s selection to the role and wanted to delay his placement. 

The general counsel position at the NSA is not a political one but a civil servant role, which means it would be harder for the incoming Biden administration to fire him.

Sources told The Post that Nakasone and others are worried that the Trump administration is trying to plant political personnel in a civilian role, which could violate a long-standing policy.

National security legal experts were critical of the effort to install Ellis into the role just a few days before Trump leaves office.

In November, when Ellis’s nomination was first announced, Susan Hennessey, a former NSA attorney, said it “appears to be an attempt to improperly politicize an important career position.”

On Saturday, Hennessy said if Ellis is installed then Biden should remove him on the day he’s inaugurated. 

“At this point, no one should extend this selection process the benefit of the doubt. By all indications, the Trump admin is violating civil service rules and politicizing an apolitical role. If Ellis is installed tonight, Biden should remove him on Day One,” she said in a tweet.

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