National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden on Tuesday said the law allowing the jailing of a woman accused of leaking Top Secret documents to a news website is a threat to a free press.
Snowden, who is living in Russia and has avoided prosecution in the United States, said in a post online that the Espionage Act leaves no room to consider the public benefit of the information leaked. Reality Winner, a 25-year-old government contractor, was charged under the act Monday for allegedly leaking a secret NSA document to the online news outlet The Intercept.
"This often-condemned law provides no space to distinguish the extraordinary disclosure of inappropriately classified information in the public interest — whistleblowing — from the malicious disclosure of secrets to foreign governments by those motivated by a specific intent to harm to their countrymen," Snowden wrote on the Freedom of the Press Foundation website.
Snowden also said that Winner should be released on bail. "To hold a citizen incommunicado and indefinitely while awaiting trial for the alleged crime of serving as a journalistic source should outrage us all," he wrote.
Snowden in 2013 leaked a huge cache of classified information that exposed the existence of a warrantless surveillance program run by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Snowden has said that his "breaking point" was Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s false statement to Congress in March 2013 that the intelligence community was not collecting millions of records on Americans.
Snowden is living in Russia, avoiding prosecution in the United States, where he was charged in his absence under the Obama administration with offenses under the Espionage Act. Snowden has said he was stranded in Russia when the State Department revoked his passport.
Winner was arrested on Monday after The Intercept published details about a top-secret document that described Russian efforts to hack voting systems in the United States a week before the 2016 presidential election.
Winner is charged with gathering, transmitting or losing defense information, according to court documents. She has not yet entered a plea.
Her attorney, Titus Nichols, said the Justice Department and others are trying to demonize her, and said Winner is a veteran who served six years in the Air Force and is a good person with no criminal history.
The Intercept said it has no knowledge of who provided it with the document.