My letter to Reality

IMG_20180309_092047.jpgIt appears that I won’t get that phone interview with the main character in my upcoming story. In my effort to do so, I sent the following letter, with a SASE, to the place where she’s being detained. Posting it below, and hoping she still appreciated hearing from me.

Reality Winner, 3342,

Lincoln County Jail

P.O. Box 970, Lincolnton, GA  3081

Dear Ms. Winner,

I’m sending this on International Women’s Day, which feels appropriate: you’re a woman of great courage, as well as strength and energy.

You don’t know me yet, but I was one of those wearing carnations at your hearing last week. I’m grateful that your family welcomed me to “Stand With Reality,” and encouraged me to write to you. They know that I’ve spent the past 10 years writing a book about veterans, some as young as you. A few have had experiences similar to yours, too — and cheered me on as I headed to Georgia for last week’s hearing. I’m hoping that you’ll write back to me, and eventually consider calling me collect so you don’t have to write responses to my questions,

Getting ready to write this, I reread your Twitter feed, to get a sense of your voice. Much of what you RTed felt like it could have been mine, especially the stuff about Standing Rock. And your election night post was pure poetry.

And your mom knows I really felt it when I learned your bio-dad died six months before The Troubles. My wife’s dad died last spring, and she’s only now having times when she doesn’t grieve him every day. (The sweetest guy in the world, a Coast Guard vet and retired firefighter, he also died of COPD, so I even know a little of how those final weeks felt.)

I’d love to hear more about  Mr. Winner. Some of the questions that popped in my mind  How did he react when you joined the Air Force? Did you share thoughts about the 2016 election, while it was going on?  Was it his COPD that trapped him in a wheelchair? Were you able to be there when he died?

I’m curious about a lot more, of course — from how it felt to go from Texas to Monterey to Fort Meade– Did you miss the South, is that why you chose Augusta when you were discharged?– to how a brilliant desk-jockey like you stayed a jock, from playing soccer school to Crossfit and yoga. Did you take up Crossfit at DLI or at Fort Meade? And why CF AND yoga? To me they seem like opposite approaches to fitness. Why do both?

If I were a potential student (and a lot younger ;-), how would you explain the combination? Did you need both to manage the stress of your AF missions? I’ve read and thought a lot about movement, especially dance,  as a way to know who we are. Is that why you like to teach it?

I’m sorry if that’s too many questions; I know answering them on paper likely feels like work.  I’d be deeply honored to hear from you. I hope the weather down in Augusta has gotten less swampy, though even that sounds awesome right now from my snowy Philadelphia street.

 

Sincerely,

Chris Lombardi

Chris L

Why We Should All Look Closer At Whistle Blower, Reality Winner’s Case

Another post from my #NYtoGA4Reality driver. Her focus on Winner’s current life as an inmate in Lincoln County, GA is especially impressive.

Lippy Libby's Blog

With today’s hustle & bustle of our busy lives, many people don’t take the time, or don’t have the time, to really look into things that don’t directly effect them. Because of that, many people scan the newspaper in the morning, getting the gist of what’s going on, but not knowing the particulars of its contents, let alone in its entirety. If there were a list of articles, topics & cases most widely known for a name, yet most widely unknown in their specifics, the case of Reality Winner would probably be right up there in the top 10.

Reality Winner has an unusual name, and one that many have focused on.  But yet what’s not known is that she is a young US Air Force veteran, and ex NSA contractor. She is the whistleblower, or truth teller, that is charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly releasing a document…

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50 years since My Lai

Reposting my piece from a few years back, on the 45th anniversary of Seymour Hersh’s My Lai series and all that followed. But this week, now,  it’s 50 years since My Lai.

Tomorrow’s the 16th anniversary of the actual massacre: the day Medina and Callley went postal and killed hundreds. We have since learned that that was far from unusual.

I Ain't Marchin' Anymore

mylainewsweekAnd all  earlier drafts of my book included a sort of big-picture retelling of those events, focusing on signature dissenters like Hugh Thompson and Ron Ridenhour. Now that I’ll be referring to those events ONLY in a leaner, character-based narrative, I wanted this blog to have this version, of which I am pretty proud.

I do wonder now who’s followed up with the quieter dissenters – the guys who said no. Any miilitary reporters want to tell me?

But these are human beings, unarmed civilians, sir”

At the end of 1969, reports flooded the U.S. newspapers about an incident not dissimilar to what had apparently happened at Liberty Bridge, bearing color photos by Army photographer Robert Haeberle, taken on March 16, 1968 in the hamlet of My Lai.

Nowadays, the name “My Lai” evokes Auschwitz, calling to mind images with which the mind has trouble coping, and Nurnberg, the…

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“I worked on the US drone program”: What the public should know…

I’ve just received permission to feature Linebaugh in an upcoming piece, though she’s moved on to a new life elsewhere. In an era where drones’ damage has tripled, her testimony here is important.

Adonis Diaries

“I worked on the US drone program”: What the public should know…

Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them  a few questions:

1. “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?” And

2. “How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Or even more pointedly:

3. “How many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicle] were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?”

Few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have any real clue of what actually goes on.

I, on the other hand…

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One last #Justice4Reality post: Word is out

If I thought I was breaking a story by going to Georgia last week, I was mistaken. More and more are learning about this young veteran, and supporting Stand with Reality. You should check out that page and bookmark it, especially during this lag time between last week and Winner’s trial. There’s also an active Facebook page and multiple Twitter hashtags, including #Justice4Reality and a #Tweetstorm that last week garnered 22 million views. Winner’s mom, Billie, then broke multiple hearts by going on “Democracy Now”:

That segment also contained the invaluable perspective of Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof, whose revelations I mentioned in the previous post.

I’ll end this one with some notes from the page on which I had started to write about last week’s hearing, before I was informed I couldn’t bring it into the courtroom: Augusta, GA is in some ways a typical military town, wide highways surrounding a downtown of red brick buildings. The hotel I’m staying in is mostly inhabited by weekly and monthly residents; behind me, a common terminal, a quiet young woman is paying bills. We’re close to Fort Gordon, but the feel is less military than melancholy Middle America. At the reception desk, a lovely woman of South Asian descent speaks quick Hindi (?) into the phone.

I hope to return to that town (if not to that particular hotel). It did, and does, feel an oddly appropriate gateway into that world where “Cyber Excellence” means not cute cat pics and FaceTime but information warfare.

#NY2GA4Reality

Libby was one of my drivers to Georgia this week. Here’s her account of the hearing, in which I’m named only as “the Philly supporter.”

Lippy Libby's Blog

On February 27, 2018, a Suppression Hearing was held in the decision making time period before Reality Winner’s actual trial in which she is being charged under the Espionage Act. This was an important hearing because Magistrate Brian Epps will decide whether or not Reality’s confession will be able to be submitted as evidence against her in court.

Magistrate Epps has since asked both the prosecution & defense to submit statements of their arguments and then he will make his decision. This, ultimately, will push back Reality’s trial that is scheduled for this month.

The reason this is so important is because of the what happened the day Reality Winner was interrogated by two male FBI agents. This was set up as a sting operation from the beginning. The lead agent said he briefed his team about the case a half mile away from Reality’s apartment, in a school parking…

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Well, that felt like an episode of Law and Order. But #Justice4Reality?

As readers of this blog know, I love watching lawyers work. I remember telling David Coombs, one day at Fort Meade, that it was like watching a great painter as layers and layers gradually create a picture. This week, in federal court, I watched prosecutors paint  a black-and-white editorial cartoon, then saw that picture turned full color  by defense attorney Matthew Chester (of the powerhouse firm Baker Donelson.)

A local news report elegantly summarized Chester’s argument: “Winner’s lawyers say agents made her believe she was in custody by taking her cell phone, car keys, blocking her car, and following her around her property,” But ‘blocking her car’ doesn’t evoke the image, supported by defense photographs, of more than seven cars blocking her small driveway, or the 11 FBI agents streaming through her small Augusta home.

The effect of all of this on a 25-year-old young woman, not much taller than my own (shrimpy) height): she felt as though she had no choice but to do what they asked.  “This was a custodial interrogation,” Chester said. None of the agents ever told her she was free to go, though one made sure to say at intervals, “You’re here voluntarily.”

The National Law Reporter  did even better with this headline: “Reality Winner’s Lawyers Say FBI Interrogation Was Unconstitutional.” The reporter also got down Chester’s list of why:

  • FBI agents informed Winner they had search warrants for her residence, her car and her person, suggesting she was not free to leave until she was frisked.
  • Agents took Winner’s car keys and cellphone as she arrived home from the grocery store.
  • Winner was never advised that she was not in custody. When she asked if she was going to be arrested, agents hedged, according to defense lawyers and a transcript of the conversation, telling her they did not know.
  • Winner was not searched until after her arrest—another indication that she was not free to leave.
  • Agents remained at Winner’s side as she put away groceries, including perishables that had been sitting in her car in the summer heat, when they began their inquiry.
  • Agents also accompanied Winner as she leashed her dog and secured her cat.
  • At one point, Winner also felt compelled to ask permission to go to the bathroom, asking agents, “How’s that going to work?” according to a transcript of her interview.
  • After asking if there was a place they could speak privately, agents directed Winner to a small, unfurnished room she said she didn’t like.
  • During the interview, two agents blocked the entrance and questioned her as Winner faced them with her back against the wall.
  • At the end of the interrogation, she was arrested rather than released.
  • Agents also made what the defense described as “accusatory statements … that the evidence against her was ‘very, very, very compelling’ and that she was ‘the most likely candidate by far and away.’” They also told her she was “the prime suspect” in the possible mishandling of classified information.
  • FBI agents informed Winner they had search warrants for her residence, her car and her person, suggesting she was not free to leave until she was frisked.
  • Agents took Winner’s car keys and cellphone as she arrived home from the grocery store.
  • Winner was never advised that she was not in custody. When she asked if she was going to be arrested, agents hedged, according to defense lawyers and a transcript of the conversation, telling her they did not know.
  • Winner was not searched until after her arrest—another indication that she was not free to leave.
  • Agents remained at Winner’s side as she put away groceries, including perishables that had been sitting in her car in the summer heat, when they began their inquiry.
  • Agents also accompanied Winner as she leashed her dog and secured her cat.
  • At one point, Winner also felt compelled to ask permission to go to the bathroom, asking agents, “How’s that going to work?” according to a transcript of her interview.
  • After asking if there was a place they could speak privately, agents directed Winner to a small, unfurnished room she said she didn’t like.
  • During the interview, two agents blocked the entrance and questioned her as Winner faced them with her back against the wall.
  • At the end of the interrogation, she was arrested rather than released.
  • Agents also made what the defense described as “accusatory statements … that the evidence against her was ‘very, very, very compelling’ and that she was ‘the most likely candidate by far and away.’” They also told her she was “the prime suspect” in the possible mishandling of classified information.

Later, I told one of Winner’s lawyers that the day had felt a little like an episode of Law and Order. “Usually,” he said, “a day in court is much more boring.”

Attorneys on both sides have military/intel backgrounds; Winner’s senior counsel (not Chester) is former NSA, Tuesday’s main prosecutor a former JAG.  The latter, who told court personnel that she missed military life sometimes, said she found “insulting” that Chester had noted the sex of the 11 FBI agents. I later told Billie Winner that the prosecutor was  the whitest woman in the room, someone who’s never had a reason to fear the police.

 

outlaw!

Tuesday night, at a gathering hosted by Reality’s mom and stepdad, I met the three-legged dog, Outlaw (above), that Reality has adopted as her mascot. I also saw the small room where Winner was interviewed. I can’t see how three people could stand comfortably in there, less have the casual conversation described in one agent’s testimony:, “It looked like 3 people talking in a Starbucks line.”

Another agent described Winner’s affect that day as “flat, unemotional.” Again, I refer you to my post on “the politics of grief.” Winner’s biological father had died about six months earlier, a trauma she was still processing.  When the FBI showed up, she turned on a cheery vibe , a cheery mix of competent professional and the good Texas girl her parents raised.  As a trained intel analyst, she knew she was in trouble.  In the courtroom, we all listened to bits of the audio of that day in June, and I could feel the tightness in her voice. She wasn’t about to show these strange men what she was thinking and feeling, really.

As the hearing ended, both sides promised to submit briefs using the classified evidence that can’t be discussed in court. My guess is that the prosecution will try to drag the issue out of Law and Order, more toward Homeland  or 24, reviving their image of this kid as some kind of terrorist mastermind.  She’d joked (in a text to her sister) that she might fail her background check! She had done Internet searches on “How to make friends with the Taliban!” Worst of all, she had money in the bank, all cited as reasons to deny her bail. The judge-magistrate, Brian Epps, was persuaded enough that Winner’s still in county jail.  Still, Epps was open to Winner’s constitutional claims, and said he’d welcome the additional briefs.

Whether or not Epps eventually agrees that Winner’s confession should be suppressed, her trial will take place before a different judge, likely  not till the fall. But I’ll write here when that decision is reached, with news from the court of public opinion.