Whistleblower documentarian calls next step in Reality Winner case 'a big one'

Published: Feb. 26, 2018 at 11:47 PM EST
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Monday, Feb. 26, 2018

(News 12 NBC 26 News At 11)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Lawyers from both sides are set to appear in an Augusta courtroom Tuesday morning as the case against Reality Winner takes its next step in Augusta's federal court.

Winner's defense is asking the judge to suppress her confession to FBI agents on the day she was arrested last summer and arguing she was denied basic Miranda rights. But a national filmmaker and author in town covering the case says what happens inside the courtroom Tuesday morning could have ramifications not only on future "whistle-blower" cases, but also on how cyber agencies handle training workers and handling clearances.

It's a sit-down with a man familiar with government whistle-blowers. Filmmaker and author Kevin Gosztola, who has covered the Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning cases in the past, sat down with members of the CSRA Peace Alliance Monday night to share his thoughts on the federal case so far and where he believes things will go from here.

But he says the next legal step in this case will be a big one.

"[Tuesday] isn't just about government secrets," Gosztola says, "it's about whether or not these FBI agents violated someone's right to remain silent."

Winner's defense is arguing her confession at her home last year should be dismissed after he says she was pressured into an admission. The FBI calls it a 'voluntary interview' and says at no point Winner was asked to even talk to the agents visiting her home, but Gosztola says those agents did not grant her Miranda rights at any time during the confrontation.

"In the moment when you're being arrested, you get caught up in what's happening and you don't know what kind of rights you have," Gosztola says. "So, like, the police are supposed to tell you that you have the right to remain silent, a right to an attorney and that didn't happen with Reality."

Gosztola also believes this could be an important decision for growing cyber hubs like Augusta, with what he calls easier access than ever to classified information. He believes more agencies have taken a closer look at how workers can access sensitive information and how to track anything that's been copied, taken or distributed.

"Many of the agencies that are based in this region," Gosztola says, "look at their systems and ask how are people able to access this information and what do we need to do to in order to secure our computers? They'll look at CD's and removable media and put tracking on those so that they can control it."

But he says another fallout could be how the government trains the next generation of cyber soldiers.

"I think that's maybe the biggest issue for some place like Cyber Command because you're going to have people like Reality Winner, millennials who are idealistic, who are going to look at the government is being handled and they have access to social media, Facebook, Twitter," Gosztola says, "and then someone at Cyber Command is going to say, 'No, you just violated your security clearance. You can't do that, you can't be a part of this social interaction.'"

Gosztola says if the judge allows her confession to be thrown out, the defense will have an easier way to defend her. But if the judge doesn't, he believes it could set a dangerous precedent that doesn't allow people to be granted basic rights during a similar altercation.

Stay with News 12 NBC 26 as this story develops.