‘The Stakes Are So High’: Texan Reality Winner Risked It All To Expose Election Interference

A documentary debuting at SXSW Film tells the story of the national security contractor who was jailed for leaking classified documents.

By Laura Rice & Caroline CovingtonMarch 19, 2021 11:43 am, , ,

Reality Winner is a name not easily forgotten. But many Americans might not remember what she did.

Winner was a former National Security Agency contractor who blew the whistle after finding evidence of Russian interference in American elections.

Director Sonia Kennebeck. Credit: Torsten Lapp

Winner has been in jail since 2018 for revealing that information, and her story is now the subject of a new documentary, “United States vs. Reality Winner,” debuting at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival.

Director Sonia Kennebeck told Texas Standard she wanted to show the person behind the whistleblower case. Kennebeck is a longtime investigative journalist, and says it’s rare to find someone who will blow the whistle on the U.S. national security apparatus.

“I am interested in the person who makes such a consequential decision,” she said. “National security whistleblowers are extremely rare because the stakes are so high.”

Highlights from this interview:

– Winner is a Kingsville, Texas, native who had a distinguished career in the U.S. Air Force before working for the NSA

– Her leak of NSA documents to the news outlet The Intercept was the first proof most Americans saw of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections

– Her leaked information helped officials make subsequent elections more secure

– Winner is now serving a five-year sentence at a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas. “I didn’t think that day would come down on her as hard as they did,” Kennebeck said.

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