Video: Defending Whistleblower Reality Winner
Courage to Resist’s Jeff Paterson in discussion with Paul George of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, on “Other Voices”. Recorded November 7, 2017, in Palo Alto, California.
Paul George: Hello and welcome to Other Voices, brought to you by Peninsula Peace and Justice Center. I’m your host Paul George.
Donald Trump has his first whistleblower case as President of the United States. About six months ago, a young woman, a National Security Agency contractor much like Edward Snowden was, leaked to the investigate journal The Intercept an NSA document that purported to show evidence of Russian meddling in our elections, and specifically in local election software and with local election officials.
Donald Trump doesn’t have a big problem with this whistleblower though, because it seems like not many people know about the case of Reality Lee Winner. We’re going to try to change that tonight. And our guest, Jeff Paterson, is one of the people who’s trying to make public, more public, the case of Reality Winner. Jeff, welcome back to Other Voices.
Jeff Paterson: Thanks for having me, Paul.
Paul George: Jeff has spent the last 11 years, in fact, on just this kind of effort as director of Courage to Resist, which provides legal and other forms of support to military war resisters. Most prominently among them, Chelsea Manning. Jeff was the first enlisted soldier to speak out against the first Gulf War in 1990 when he refused to deploy to Iraq. And these days, along with Rainey Reitman and Trevor Timm, Jeff founded Stand With Reality, to provide support to America’s latest whistleblower, Reality Lee Winner. Much as Courage to Resist stood with Chelsea Manning for many years.
I want to start, Jeff, with your last visit here was about Chelsea’s case, I believe. I don’t remember exactly when it was, but several years ago.
Jeff Paterson: It was a long time ago. Chelsea Manning was arrested in May of 2010, and she just walked out of prison a few months ago. So that was a long seven year stretch of protests and petitions and marching on the White House and traveling the country to wherever she was being incarcerated at. It was a long haul.
Paul George: Yeah, I wanted to start there, not only with Chelsea’s case which ended up on a rather happy note, but how many military resisters has Courage to Resist worked with over the years?
Jeff Paterson: We were founded, I would say, formally in 2005, when the Iraq War was first picking up. And we’ve worked on 40 military court martials, meaning people who were facing prison time.
Paul George: For refusing to deploy to …
Jeff Paterson: For refusing to deploy to Iraq usually, and sometimes Afghanistan. And sometimes those individuals sought refuge in Canada, some of those people were deported, some of those people are allowed to stay. Other people simply came back from Iraq and said to themselves, “I’m never going to do that. I can’t go back. I’ve seen too much death. I’m not going to survive, and I disagree with what’s happening over there,” and simply turned themselves in later and faced the consequences of that.
Paul George: Yeah, so people take a lot of paths to, because as you know, it’s not easy to refuse an order like that. Because you’re facing a lot of personal grief.
Jeff Paterson: Right, and the military has a hold on people’s minds. If you get a bad paper discharge from the military, your life is over, for example.
Paul George: Although as we found out tragically, you can still buy a gun.
Jeff Paterson: Exactly. Right. But a lot of that’s internalized, as far as that guilt of letting your buddies down. And a lot of people I work with went through the Vietnam War as well and you have the same experiences. You can totally disagree with the war, but yet the friends you train with and live with for years are …
Paul George: Are still friends.
Jeff Paterson: Are still friends and they’re facing life and death situations regardless of whether you politically disagree with the war and personally can’t be involved.
Paul George: Chelsea’s case is the best known one. But I want to spend a moment before we get into Reality’s case about how grassroots support, what you’re trying to drum up, the demonstrations and stuff, how important a role that plays. What role does it play in these kind of cases? Or like with Chelsea’s in particular?
Jeff Paterson: Yeah, I’m the project director of an organization dedicated to building that grassroots support, so I have to say it makes a big difference. But I’ve done this for the last 10 years because I’ve seen it make a difference. In my own case I was facing five years in prison for speaking out against the first Gulf War. And it made all the difference in the world that people in the community came forward to support me. And not only give me a pat on the back, but actually fundraise and find an attorney to represent me. And because of that my jail time was limited. And once I got out, I relied on that community of support to move on from the military and try to make a life after that.
One of the biggest cases prior …
Paul George: I want to pick up on something you just said. How did that kind of public support shorten your sentence? Was it …
Jeff Paterson: Well, I was facing five years in prison. And every one of these cases we do, and we’ve done almost 50 of them now, it’s a different situation. Meaning we’re dealing with a particular prosecution team that’s taking orders from a particular general. And sometimes that general is focused on deploying thousands of troops into a combat theater and sometimes he’s not. Sometimes he’s dealing with troop shortages and he’s going to take every last person he can regardless of medical conditions. And sometimes they’re not. Sometimes the U.S. is building up towards a offensive or a surge, and sometimes they’re trying to trim numbers. So every one of these court martials happens in a slightly different context where the military has different objectives. So we try to figure out how that’s going and try to find a strategy that’s going to best serve that objector, to minimize jail time.
In my case, the military was trying to deploy a lot of people to fight the first large scale war since Vietnam at the time, during the Gulf War in Iraq. And the community did protests right outside the base. And that made the military very nervous. Because the last time that happened was Vietnam, and that was the big sort of rapture in society of what people believed and what people were willing to do to protest and take a stand, from burning draft cards to marching against the war on the street. All pretty much unheard of for a long time prior to that. So now all of a sudden, they’re seeing the echoes of that.
Paul George: What base was?
Jeff Paterson: I was in Kane’ohe Bay on Oahu in Hawaii. And obviously Pearl Harbor and Hawaii is a staging point for military amphibious and offensive forces still.
Paul George: And the role of this grassroots support, again going back to Chelsea Manning’s case, I think that was really critical. I mean, because of the notice of what she released was pretty stunning. The content and how much attention it got paid to. Do you think this kind of broad popular support is what led Obama to commute her sentence?
Jeff Paterson: Well, absolutely. Right, why else would a President expend the political capital to do that.
Paul George: At the end of his term, when he didn’t need anymore.
Jeff Paterson: At the end of his term. But still, it was only because millions of people signed petitions. And we took over one of his fundraisers.
Paul George: Did you really?
Jeff Paterson: And we sang a song about Chelsea Manning. And we watched one of Obama’s key people turn to Nancy Pelosi and say, “Did you do this, Nancy?” And Nancy was, “I don’t know what the hell’s going on.”
Paul George: You didn’t pay $10,000 a piece to get in, did you?
Jeff Paterson: We actually did. Well, we paid thousands of dollars to get in. And that’s because a donor came forward and she had this vision that she was willing to spend 50 grand so we could have eight or nine people sort of stage this sort of protest in one of his sort of elite fundraising gatherings.
Paul George: And speaking of money, one of the key roles that you play with all these is fundraising for legal defense.
Jeff Paterson: We do a lot of these cases and sometimes the difference between having an attorney and roof over your head is four or five or six thousand bucks. And we’ve done many of these cases for under $10,000, where we have a significant legal effort that helps them in that regard. And we’re able to hire psychiatrists to talk to the mitigating circumstances to sort of limit their jail time in that regard. And then also give some money to their family. Because a lot of times they’re young dudes with young families, a wife and the kids. And all the sudden the breadwinner of the family is in jail for six or seven or nine or 12 months. So we’re usually able to help the spouse to sort of get by while they’re in prison.
Paul George: Well that’s all really important stuff. I do want to get to Reality Winner’s case, but you’re still in touch with Chelsea Manning?
Jeff Paterson: Chelsea’s free. And she’s going to be back in the Bay Area next week I believe. It’s called Aaron Schwartz Day.
Paul George: That’s right. I’ve seen that she’s coming out for that.
Jeff Paterson: So she’ll be at that event. And she’s coming into her own. People have to remember that she had spent seven years of her life up until just a few weeks ago in confinement, sometimes under conditions that were described as torture by the UN investigators. So she’s trying to find her own voice, she’s trying to find out who she is. It’s amazing because it seemed like just a year ago she would die in prison. So that’s pretty amazing to watch.
Paul George: Yeah. And I think you told me there’s a documentary coming out about her? Do you know much about that?
Jeff Paterson: There is. Academy Award winning production team is doing a documentary. The documentary started when she was in prison and talked to a lot of our campaign staff. And when she was freed, obviously the documentary turned into something completely different. So it’s going to be a much happier ending to the story.
Paul George: Great. Well we’ll look forward to her being out here next weekend and to the documentary. So let’s get to the case of Reality Lee Winner.
Jeff Paterson: So the first thing is, that is actually her real name.
Paul George: Okay.
Jeff Paterson: She was born with that name. And her dad said he wanted a real winner in the family and they named her Reality. Reality Winner. So that’s probably the first question everybody’s thinking is like, “Well what’s her real name?” That’s it. She didn’t choose it.
Paul George: You know, when I saw that little entry on the StandWithReality.org website I thought, “Boy, why do they feel like they need to say that’s really her name?” So I did a search on Twitter on Reality Winner, and the right wing is all over it, that her name was really Sarah or all these other things.
Jeff Paterson: There’s a lot of crazy stuff on the internet. So when she was initially arrested people point to that as it was a hoax or fake news, that this is not a real person or it was a DNC conspiracy to make Trump look bad during that night’s news cycle or something like that.
Paul George: So give us a little bio about her.
Jeff Paterson: Grew up, born and raised in Texas, on the coast near Corpus Christie. And she loves animals. She’s super smart. She was the high school mascot, you know, inside the costume, all this stuff. She joined the Air Force, she served for six years stateside. Was sent to Monterrey to learn Middle Eastern languages, knows Farsi and a couple others. Vegan, weightlifter. And I think she’s somebody who wanted to fight the bad guys in her own special way.
Paul George: And she got into intelligence work in the Air Force, correct?
Jeff Paterson: Right. Just like Chelsea Manning, an intelligence sort of specialist. And you know, again somewhat like Manning began to see how futile and how devastating these wars are. It’s not about good and bad guys, it’s about innocent people being killed. This is sort of like off subject and basically from my own discussions with her, but she was looking forward to getting out of the Air Force and transitioning in some kind of helping people in humanitarian kind of thing. So was thinking the Peace Corps or anything, because she had never heard of any progressive peace organizations, like the Peace and Justice Center. So anyway, that’s where her thinking was.
Paul George: There is one in Austin, Texas.
Jeff Paterson: So I guess that’s who she is. Vegan, loves animals, very, very smart. But when she got out of the military, like so many young people, you don’t really have a lot after you get out of the military. But if you’re an intelligence specialist you have a top secret clearance. And if you have a top secret clearance, there’s people paying pretty good money for you to become a cog in sort of the NSA complex of hundreds of subcontractors. And then she took that job.
Paul George: And that was in Georgia.
Jeff Paterson: That was in Augusta, Georgia, working for a subcontractor for the NSA. And that’s where the next part of the story comes. So she had access to top secret information. The government alleges that on the day Trump fired James Comey from the FBI and bragged that basically he’s out of the woods and there’s not going to be any, you know, the investigations are over. And then he meets with the Russians a few days after that, it’s like, “All of my problems are solved now.”
Paul George: He said it in a TV interview.
Jeff Paterson: Right. So it’s important to remember those are the things that are happening when allegedly Reality Winner looked on the computer and started searching for Russia collusion and things of this nature. And then allegedly found this document and sent it a couple days later to The Intercept. And then during her interrogation the government puts forward that she claimed that this document, she was frustrated by what was going on and what she was seeing in society, and that this document should be public because it speaks to what’s going on and what everybody knows. And here you have the President talking about he has no idea if the Russians actually did anything. But here’s this document that shows that the NSA believe that Russian agents were spearfishing select officials of state elections. So the document itself doesn’t prove that the Russians changed any tallies of any votes or anything like that, but it speaks to the fact that the NSA’s best intelligence shows that they believe Russian agents were spearfishing and trying to gain access to U.S. election systems.
Paul George: Let’s talk a little bit in detail about what’s in the document, because I think a lot people haven’t gotten that from this story to the extent that the media has covered this story at all. So picking up on what you just said, the document does show, not that they changed vote totals or anything, but they had a very active program to try to get to registration software vendors, voter registration, and through them to local election officials. Flesh out the document a little bit so that people have a good idea.
Jeff Paterson: Well, first thing I would say is you can Google the Reality Winner NSA document. You can read it yourself. It’s only four pages in all. We’re not talking about Edward Snowden’s half million documents, we’re not talking about Chelsea Manning’s 400,000 documents. We’re talking about a single document that’s four pages long. It describes the NSA’s best opinion that Russian agents were spearfishing, trying to access these election systems. And it goes into some detail, what types of software, malware that they were trying to use to gain access. But in short that’s what it is. It’s not anything more and it’s not anything less.
And some people felt that, “Well, she should have just dumped the entire thing and there’s probably more documents that show of how the NSA came to these conclusions.” But I would ask that you put yourself in the shoes of this young woman who is trying to basically, “What can I add to the public discussion without actually harming the people I work for.” You know, without actually getting into real trouble, I guess is how I would say it. I don’t want to go to prison, but I want people to know that our government really does think that the Russians were trying to hack our systems.
And I think if you’re that person, you’re saying, “Well, this document is very important but it’s not something that they’re going to come and put me away in prison for, for the rest of my life or something like that.”
Paul George: Right. It’s not revealing any secret methods or agent’s names or anything.
Jeff Paterson: Exactly. There’s no informants or anything like this. There’s no, the government is going to try to prove that harm was produced by this document. But you can read the document and I think a reasonable person will see that it is what it is and that there is no secret information in the document. But the quirk is that she’s being tried under the Espionage Act. And in the courtroom …
Paul George: Which is from 1917 or something.
Jeff Paterson: A hundred years ago. Before the classified system of documentation was even invented.
Paul George: So the Espionage Act can’t mention classified documents …
Jeff Paterson: Because classified documents didn’t exist back then. But the government’s making that leap. But I guess my point is is that Reality Winner can go before a jury and the jury will never know what the contents of the document is. She’ll never be able to, as things stand now, and the legal team is trying to appeal at every step of the way, but as things stand now the case will be did Reality Winner take a classified document, we’re not going to talk about what it is, and give it to a person that was not authorized to receive a classified document. And the government’s contention is, if that’s yes, she’s guilty, 10 years and a quarter million dollar fine.
We’re not going to talk about what the document is, we’re not going to be able to talk about what the harm was to anybody. We’re not going to be able to talk about for the greater good, a public good defense. If the government has its way it’s just like Reality Winner took document X and gave it to person Y, and that’s it. And a jury is going to decide her guilt on that if things stand as it is now.
Paul George: It sounds like she can’t even really mount a defense that way. There are whistleblower protections, can’t she invoke those somehow in this? You have the President of the United States saying the Russians weren’t involved in the election, you have an NSA document that says they were. Isn’t that the very definition of whistleblowing?
Jeff Paterson: And that’s why I spend my days working on this campaign.
Paul George: Working on this case.
Jeff Paterson: I think it’s important. And another aspect of why it’s important is it’s not just because a young woman is facing injustice. The world is really messed up these days, right? So it’s hard for people to like, “Why should I care about this one person? There’s plenty of people facing a lot of injustice.” But the Trump administration and Trump’s justice department is turning a corner, I guess I would say. In that here’s for the first time you have a person who has given one document, one time, to one media source as a contribution to a national interest story. There’s no doubt about that, the Russian interference in the U.S. elections is of interest.
Paul George: Well, it should be.
Jeff Paterson: And here for the first time the prosecution is going through with an Espionage Act prosecution in charging. In previous times the Espionage Act was sort of trotted out as a stick, right? So like, “Hey, plead guilty to this lesser charge or we’re going to prosecute you with this.” And people would plead guilty, get a few months in prison. And that’s, you know, for people like John Kiriakou, who told the media of one of the FBI agents who tortured detainees in Guantanamo. He sort of let that out of the bag. And he spent a few months in prison for that. Obviously it was noteworthy and obviously I think John’s a great guy and I’m friends with him. But he spent a few months in prison.
But now the Trump administration’s, “We want to make an example of whistleblowers, and we’re going to use this case to show that for even the smallest whistleblowing crime, despite whatever defense you might have, we’re going to go after her with the full weight.” And if the prosecution’s allowed to make this precedent with this case there truly is no defense going forward for any national secrets kind of person who has classified information. Maybe it’s like war crimes, like Chelsea Manning. There’s no defense. Whatever minor your leak is, if you are not an inside Washington person who’s doing this on behalf of the government, which happens everyday, but you are an outsider making the government look bad, your life is over. 10 years in prison, quarter million dollar fine.
Paul George: That’s what she’s facing?
Jeff Paterson: Yeah. And you have no defense, as I described. It’d be like a star chamber kind of deal where you go in front of the jury and the jury has no idea what you’re actually innocent or guilty of.
Paul George: And when you say they can’t introduce the document even when this goes to trial … And by the way, it’s scheduled for March, is it still for March?
Jeff Paterson: It’s currently scheduled for March 19th. The prosecution is no turning over evidence in a timely way …
Paul George: Big surprise there.
Jeff Paterson: So it’s likely to go into the summer.
Paul George: So the question of presenting evidence at the trial when it comes up, whenever it comes up. I was reading some at The Intercept about this. They really are kind of making it so that even if it’s, like the document that Reality released is online, it’s on your website StandWithReality.org. The New York Times I think posted it on their website.
Jeff Paterson: Wikipedia has it as well. So it’s easy to find.
Paul George: But the government is saying, “That’s a classified document so you can’t introduce it in court,” even though …
Jeff Paterson: Right, it’s technically a classified document, so technically it doesn’t exist if you don’t have a clearance to view it and a need to know reason to view it. So the document officially doesn’t exist, but the prosecution has gone further and the judge so far has agreed with the prosecution. That not only that Reality Winner can’t talk about the NSA document that she may go to jail for 10 years for releasing, the defense can’t talk about any of the 100 plus media articles that resulted from the document being released. And the defense can’t talk about all of the government actions that took place to try to mitigate possible hacking attempts on systems. There are many, in 21 states, that the first time election officials heard about Russians spearfishing and hacking was through not the government telling them, but from a Reality Winner related document that appeared on The Intercept.
Paul George: So when her story hit the media, that’s when the state officials learned what the NSA had known for months?
Jeff Paterson: So if you’re a defense attorney, you’re like, “Well, my client, her actions resulted in the greater good.” And then you might be able to call to the stand some of these state officials and have them say …
Paul George: I’m really glad she did this.
Jeff Paterson: “I didn’t know this happened until this document appeared in the press.” But no, that is classified as well. We can’t call on those people because we can’t tell the jury that those things happened. So you can’t talk about the document, you can’t talk about the media reporting of the document, you can’t talk about all the things the government did to mitigate its election systems as a result of the document being released.
Paul George: She can’t talk about her own motivations?
Jeff Paterson: At this point, no.
Paul George: Is there a way before this trial that the defense team can appeal this …
Jeff Paterson: Exactly.
Paul George: … and go to the judge …
Jeff Paterson: This is going to be a precedent setting case, good or bad. We’re hoping it’s good.
Paul George: Yeah.
Jeff Paterson: And we have seven attorneys that represent five different law firms. Some are based right there in Augusta, Georgia and are local to the community. Others are experts in whistleblowing and the Espionage Act. So it’s an impressive team effort. And we’re publishing the court documents on a daily basis on StandWithReality.org if people want to …
Paul George: I’ve looked. It’s an incredible list already.
Jeff Paterson: You can see the back and forth. There’s 150 court documents and a lot of them are very detailed briefs on what the Espionage Act was and what it’s become and why it doesn’t apply to this case. And the government obviously has its own opinions of why Reality’s a very, very bad person. And Reality, the judge has formally ruled that Reality quote unquote hates America. Because during a private Facebook chat with her sister, Britty, Reality and Britty are talking about environmental issues and Reality says like, “Well, Americans use way too much air conditioning. Basically and that’s one of the things I hate about America, is like we’re basically indulgent and not taking enough care of our environment,” and that kind of stuff. But literally on the basis of that kind of conversation taken out of context, the judge then makes an official declaration in his order that Reality Winner has admitted to hating America. And it’s just such a leap that it’s hard to even take seriously.
And yet it’s important to understand that Reality Winner is in jail. She’s been in jail without bail for five months now. Let’s compare that to …
Paul George: That’s where this, the bail hearing is where this thing came up, right? About her hating America?
Jeff Paterson: Exactly. And that’s why she was denied bail. So let’s look at Russiagate. We’ve got Reality Winner, held without bail because she’s a flight risk because she had a few thousand dollars in the bank and she went to Mexico for dental work because she lived near the border. So she’s a flight risk for those reasons. But yet Paul Manafort, he has 100 million dollars, he has 10 passport applications, he has three different passports with three different numbers, homes on different continents, and yet he’s deemed not to be a flight risk that requires to be in jail. The same thing with Gates.
Paul George: Yeah, he gets home detention.
Jeff Paterson: There’s a person, an alt-right activist, Mr. Lane is his last name [correction: Lane Davis], he recently murdered his father with a steak knife because his dad called him a Nazi. Because he’s a Nazi. It’s important to realize that Mr. Lane got bail. Days after murdering his father with a steak knife, basically still covered in blood, the judge is like, “Okay, a million dollars bail.” Reality’s family was willing to put up a million dollar bond. They had their ranch house in Texas and other money on bond and they were prepared for that million dollar bond. But they didn’t have the choice. But murderers, Manafort, Gates, are all given the opportunity for bond and house arrest.
Paul George: Well, you probably hear this a lot and probably bring it up a lot, but I can’t help but think about David Petraeus, this renowned general who for an illicit affair was handing over much more classified information than it sounds like Reality did, and I don’t think he ever spent half and hour in a jail.
Jeff Paterson: He was never in jail. He gave dozens and dozens of documents to his mistress in exchange for either a better book or in exchange for sex. The U.S. government has prosecuted plenty of people for trading secret information for sex, you know, going back to Sergeant Lonetree, who is still in prison today for having a girlfriend in Moscow during the ’80s. So yeah. You know, and then all of a sudden, General Petraeus, he gets a slap on the wrist. And he was seriously considered to be part of Trump’s cabinet after this happened. And yet again …
Paul George: Yeah, he’d of been the only cabinet member convicted before becoming a member of the cabinet.
Jeff Paterson: Which would be more honest I think, more transparent. But again, I want to note how outrageous Reality Winner not being allowed bail. And her not being allowed bail makes her unable to participate in her defense. She can’t look at the documents unless she’s literally in chains in a tiny room because all the evidence is secret. So she has to be taken to the secret closet and she has to be in chains while she’s in the secret closet. So it makes her not want to go through all this. So it makes her really unable to participate. Whereas Manafort, Gates are able to do Skype on CNN from their living room with an ankle bracelet and argue that their house arrest is far too severe and unfair.
Paul George: Yeah. Is there any kind of appeal on the bail going on? Or has that been pretty exhausted and there’s no hope?
Jeff Paterson: We are appealing to the Southern District Court of Georgia. So we’re appealing to the district court. And that’s why there’s already 150 court documents is that we’re going to appeal every aspect of this case. And that’s critical in a case like this, because if the government has its way and we don’t have a win in one of these appellate courts before the trial, the trial itself is kind of a horse and pony show of not being able to actually talk about anything substantial.
Paul George: Talk just briefly, and then I want to move along to what people can do to help, but the circumstances of her arrest, when the FBI came to her house. And first of all, quickly, how did they identify her? And then she made no effort to hide that she did this, did she?
Jeff Paterson: The circumstances of her arrest, I talked about a little bit about the timeframe of what was going on in society and what might have motivated her to do this. And when I say that, I assume she did it, I don’t have any inside information. But I also, and I’m unaware of anybody else who might have done it. But at the same time, she’s plead not guilty to this, so that’s why I was like, “If she did it.” I told you about the FBI director had just been sacked and it looked like Trump thinking that he might just get away with not facing any consequences. And Comey, in addition to Reality Winner’s document, Comey also leaked notes from his sacking with Trump. And it really was the Winner document and Comey’s leak that really gave some backbone to the call for an actual investigation. So I think those things are significant to remember.
Paul George: Yeah. And there was a question about whether she had been given a Miranda warning, told her rights when FBI …
Jeff Paterson: Well, she wasn’t. And that you know in America today, the police are usually allowed to get away with that. I was just reading about another article that somebody, a young person, told the cops that they didn’t want to be questioned anymore. And he said, “Well, I want a lawyer, dawg.” And then the appellate court just upheld the police deciding not to provide a lawyer and stop questioning because the police claim that he was asking for a canine lawyer. So all I’m saying is that the Miranda warnings is something that the courts are allowing to slip and giving the police far too leeway. In Reality’s case it was the same thing, it was like, “You’re free to leave except we have 10 armed men in the SWAT uniforms blocking your way. And we have you backed up into a little corner and we are now shouting at you to answer our questions.”
Paul George: They were shouting at her?
Jeff Paterson: Yeah. You know, you have very large men …
Paul George: Intimidating.
Jeff Paterson: … and tactical military weaponry. And you know, she has this little flat on a rural Georgia street.
Paul George: They took 10 people in to raid her place?
Jeff Paterson: They did. 10 males. 10 men. You know, they sat her down in a dark back corner and started like, basically it was an interrogation. And you know, the police now say, “Well, she could have left if she wanted to.” But it was absurd, you know, they weren’t going to let her go anywhere. And in that context, the government’s transcript of that says that she eventually said, “Yeah, I did this. I saw what was basically … I didn’t understand why these things were being talked about. And I didn’t understand why this document shouldn’t be part of the public discussion,” basically.
Paul George: Yeah.
Jeff Paterson: You know, in that context the police agents were saying things like, “Well, you know, politics are crazy these days. Nobody would blame you for wanting to expose some of this crazy stuff.” And they were kind of egging her on. So that was the context of her quote unquote confession. The defense is now arguing that that shouldn’t be allowed based on she was never given her Miranda rights, she was never told she had access to a lawyer.
Paul George: So the prosecutor will get to introduce that as evidence, but she can’t basically introduce any of her defense as defense?
Jeff Paterson: Basically right. But I don’t think that this case is going to hinge on that. This case is not a whodunit case. It’s not Reality did or did not do this. It’s about does the Espionage Act apply to somebody, who for no benefit and for the public good, provides information critical to understanding of how our democracy should work and decisions that the population should make. And that’s it.
Paul George: And that’s why you’re involved in this.
Jeff Paterson: Yeah, that’s why I’m involved with it. Because if we lose this case, there really isn’t, whistleblowers don’t stand a chance going forward.
Paul George: They don’t have much chance now.
Jeff Paterson: Right.
Paul George: But certainly it sounds like if this sets a precedent for future whistleblower cases …
Jeff Paterson: Yeah. And also I want to make a point, she’s already spent five very hard months in a very small, very rural Georgia county jail.
Paul George: She’s in a county jail, huh?
Jeff Paterson: And it’s a very small jail, it’s out in the middle of nowhere. And it’s not made to hold people long term. But yet because she’s being outsourced from the federal detention system into this county jail, she could be there an entire year. And she’s having significant health problems. She’s a vegan, so she’s living off bread and cans of peas from the commissary. You know, she was a weightlifter when she went in. So you know, being a vegan weightlifter, that diet is challenging even for anybody on the outside.
Paul George: Yeah.
Jeff Paterson: So I’m not trying to say, “Oh, poor Reality.” But it’s a tough situation while all these other people are allowed to organize their own defense from the outside and be on CNN to tell about their unfair treatment.
Paul George: All right. Well, I want to get to our audience real soon for their questions and comments. But let’s get down to the gist of what you’re doing. How do people go about supporting Reality Winner and helping you support Reality?
Jeff Paterson: Well this is where I talk about the website, StandWithReality.org. This defense team is significant, their effort is massive. They’re working for pennies on the dollar so to speak. So we’ve been able to raise and contribute like $35,000 to their legal fees for Reality and we’re not even near the end of this case. So I’m hoping people go to the website and learn about this case and understand why it’s important. Help us contribute to the defense effort. You can follow the case, you know, sign up for the weekly emails that sort of sum up what the issues of the case are. And then you can do simply person to person things, like write Reality directly in jail. You know, send her a postcard, her birthday’s coming up, send her a birthday card.
Paul George: That’s a good idea. I think we have actually for the TV broadcast the address to write to her. And hopefully it is appearing right now, I won’t know until I see the tape of this.
Jeff Paterson: Well if it doesn’t, StandWithReality.org.
Paul George: StandWithReality.org. Anything else? Are there petitions, any demonstrations coming up, anything like that?
Jeff Paterson: Absolutely. We’ve got veterans marching. She just got out of the Air Force a few months ago. So we have people in veteran’s parades across the country doing little contingents for her in those parades. And we do online, we have petitions and information cards and stickers and buttons and all that kind of stuff.
Paul George: She actually had a really good record in the Air Force, did she not?
Jeff Paterson: She was great. Everybody loved her. And some of the people who are supporting her now are former people who served with her.
Paul George: That’s good to hear.
Jeff Paterson: There’s no question that she’s a smart young woman who loves America and loves her job, even though she doesn’t want to be part of the quote unquote killing machine going forward.
Paul George: But it was an immediately transferable skill that she came out of the military with.
Jeff Paterson: Yeah. So it’s bewildering to her and her family to have a judge decide that she quote unquote hates America and needs to be held in jail without bail. When there’s absolutely nothing of substance to back that up.
Paul George: Who’s the judge? What do we know about the judge?
Jeff Paterson: Well, they’re both in Augusta, Georgia. We’ve got a magistrate judge deciding some of these questions and then there’s a chief judge. And I guess the point is that it’s not about these judges personally. We disagree with their rulings and we’re appealing those rulings. But we’re going to be making a lot of arguments in front of these two judges and we want to be nice to them.
Paul George: Yeah. All right. Well let me be nice to my audience here and offer an opportunity for your own questions and comments. Just wait for Crystal to arrive with the microphone. You got the microphone? There’s a question right down in front here. And if you’d stand up and make it a little easier for our camera operators, that’d be great.
Speaker 3: So it sounds to me like this disinformation is being held by, or that was held by the NSA, is information that could be subverting our democracy. Is there any effort by the lawyers to go on attack, in other words ask for additional disclosure so that you could put the NSA themselves on trial in a way?
Paul George: Thanks.
Jeff Paterson: So yeah, so we’re talking about all this stuff about secret evidence. And that is why the secret evidence rules exist, so we can’t do that. So we can’t talk about the bigger picture about why this stuff was hidden in the first place. If the government’s allowed to win what’s called these ex parte rulings, and ex parte is simply Latin for one side. Meaning the prosecution gets to see it but the defense doesn’t. So you have a trial where the prosecution gets to look at evidence, the defense just has to take their word for it, they exist, right? So if we lose all these ex parte rulings and orders, then there’s no way that we could even begin to talk about the bigger picture of why this was in the public good to be released. And why was it classified in the first place?
Every year the amount of classified information in the United States like doubles, right? So there’s exponential growth. Like a few decades ago there was thousands. And today there’s like tens of millions every year of classified documents that we can’t see. There are a million people in the United States with access to this classified information that have secret and top secret clearance. So we’re talking a million Americans. So some of this stuff is not that critical, if you’re allowing a million people to look at it. But it allows the government to be very selective in cases like this to say, “We’re going to prosecute this young woman but she’s not going to actually get a chance to defend herself in any meaningful way.”
Paul George: Okay. Any other questions in the audience? Come on audience, don’t sit there quietly. Okay, thank you. Hold the mic right up to your mouth.
Speaker 4: Okay. So there is obviously a trust in the country that this woman had for going in to the military and a belief that this system might work. And then she was exposed to maybe the corruption or the underbelly of what was actually happening. So I’m wondering if you could enlighten us a little bit on what the solution to this would be? Of somebody who kind of sees what is not right and trying to empower themselves to say, “Hey, this is what’s really happening,” but the accusation or the persecution of actually doing that coming from the filter of being in the military, I don’t know how to end the question, but speaking to that maybe?
Jeff Paterson: Well, I do talk to her. So I feel like I have some kind of insight. We don’t talk about what she may or may not be guilty of. But she was, she was in the military. And then she realized that killing wasn’t the answer. But she wasn’t exactly sure what else the answer was. And she took this job with the NSA to sort of basically get some money for a little bit in order to do some kind of, she had this general idea that she wanted to be some kind of humanitarian mission somewhere in the world or something like this. So what I’m trying to say is she was an idealistic young person. And I would hope that most young people are idealistic. You’re figuring out what you’re going to be when you grow up and what you stand for, and things are changing all the time.
But what’s the answer? We have a system, you know, right after Reality was placed in jail without bail, Donald Trump announced, you know, celebrated National Whistleblower Day. You know, with a straight face. Obviously we know Trump and his jokes and not. But the whistleblower statutes that protect whistleblowers, they’re basically for people to expose contractors who are ripping off the government. They’re like, “This guy is charging you too many pennies for this widget,” or something like that. And they don’t cover anything regarding national security. And we’re not talking about nuclear codes, we’re talking about these tens of millions of documents that are deemed to be classified every year.
And if you look back at what the rules are governing classified information, a document can not be classified unless it would cause demonstrable harm to the government if it was released. And yet we know the vast majority of documents just simply don’t meet that criteria. And how do we know that? Because we can look at the half million documents Edward Snowden exposed. We can look at the 350,000 documents Chelsea Manning exposed. And yet the government can’t point to a single person that was killed by the release of this information, close to a billion secret documents. Each one of them was supposed to be demonstrably harmful to the government. And you just can’t show that harm.
Paul George: Yeah. It seems like the only harm that’s happening here is the reputational harm to the people in the government that are doing these surveillance programs and …
Jeff Paterson: Sure, and we mention this. That people within the Trump administration intentionally leak classified information to the press every day in so far it drives the administration’s agenda. And then people like Petraeus, who are Washington insiders, if they’re caught doing very similar things they get a slap on the wrist. But yet for the not powerful, the working class whistleblower, your life is over. And that’s what Trump’s telling us.
Paul George: As part of what you do with Courage to Resist, are you also, do you work with any members of Congress to try to strengthen whistleblower existing laws or new legislation to cover some of these? I know there’s a national whistleblowers center or something, are they trying to …?
Jeff Paterson: Basically we work in coalitions. There are whistleblower organizations out there, Whisper is one, there’s National Whistleblower Association.
Paul George: Association.
Jeff Paterson: And then we’re working, especially with the Reality Winner case, with election integrity organizations. Yeah, Reality Winner, she didn’t like Donald Trump. And she was more than likely trying to hold him accountable. And that’s very hard to do, we know. But we should still try.
Paul George: We should.
Jeff Paterson: And she’s paying the price for that. But these organizations are relatively small. Courage to Resist is relatively small. So we work in these coalitions. And sure, there are a small number of Congresspeople that are sympathetic to us. But I don’t know. Anyways, we can see what’s happening in Congress today. We don’t have a whole lot of friends at this point.
Paul George: Yeah, and how. Any more questions out here in the audience? All right, I think this will probably be the last one, running out of time.
Speaker 5: I don’t know if you can really call this a serious question, but you know, I look at the situation and Reality Winner is in jail in Georgia for trying to hold the government accountable. I mean, is this like, you know, the whole sentence works together as kind a microcosm of like what’s wrong with this country. And I mean, could this be part of an integrated southern, the south will rise again kind of strategy?
Jeff Paterson: I have no idea. But I would say as far as you can make puns all day of reality and winner, and it’s impossible to even talk about this case without coming across a Reality Winner pun. But anyways … So I guess one thing, we’re not talking about a hacker that took on a fake name or something like that. We’re talking about a young woman from Texas who tried to do the right thing. And the Trump administration is pulling no stops to make an example to future whistleblowers.
Paul George: So what’s next? There’s a lot more jockeying back and forth, basically getting the ground rules set for the trail?
Jeff Paterson: Exactly. So the legal teams are going back and forth. And as far as our public education program, last week we had Manafort and Gates be indicted. Next week I expect Flynn and his son to be indicted from this. And yet my concern is Reality Winner simply fades into the background and is forgotten, while the rich and powerful in Washington, you know, their indictments stack up, they’re allowed to defend themselves in the media about how unfair all this stuff is. That their associated crimes shouldn’t be tied to the Russiagate, stuff like that. So my job is in part to make sure people don’t forget about Reality Winner as the media shifts its attention to the rich and powerful in D.C.
Paul George: Well, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do this program. I’ve been following the case and I’ve been following your work for many years. And you pick a lot of important cases. And this seems like a really important one.
Jeff Paterson: Some people think I pick the hard cases. There’s some attorneys that only take cases that they’re sure they can win. Sometimes I feel like I only take cases that I can expect to lose.
Paul George: That you’re almost bound to lose.
Jeff Paterson: But there’s something to be said for that, right? If you have nothing to lose then you can fight the best fight you can.
Paul George: All right. We’re going to have to leave it there because we’re out of time. My guest has been Jeff Paterson of Courage to Resist. One more word?
Jeff Paterson: Well, Chelsea Manning’s freedom today proves that we do win sometimes, and that’s what we’ll do with Reality Winner.
Paul George: Okay. Thank you for joining us Jeff Paterson. Thank you all for being here. Good night.