She joined the Air Force at 19 and worked with secret combat units before starting her role at the NSA. She speaks Farsi, Dari, and Pashto – languages spoken in Afghanistan and Iran, but Ms Winner was based in Fort Meade, Maryland.
She was arrested in 2017 after mailing the secret report to The Intercept. Ms Winner said the Trump administration was trying to cover up the NSA report.
“I am not a traitor,” Ms Winner told 60 Minutes. “I am not a spy. I am somebody who only acted out of love for what this country stands for.”
“I knew [the report] was secret,” she added. “But I also knew that I had pledged service to the American people, and at that point in time, it felt like they were being led astray.”
Ms Winner still isn’t allowed to speak about the case. She served four years in prison and now answers to a probation officer. She was sentenced to 63 months in prison – the longest sentence handed down by a federal court for releasing government information to the press.
“I’ve had four years of just trying to say I’m not a terrorist,” Ms Winner told CBS. “I can’t even begin to talk about my actual espionage indictment. Or have a sense of accomplishment in having survived prison. Because I’m still stained by them accusing me of being [in] the same groups that I enlisted in the Air Force to fight against.”
As her case dragged on, Ms Winner said she “started to plan my suicide. And I would do practice runs. The only thing that was stopping me was my mom”.
Her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told the programme that “there were some very dark days. But then they would be followed by a better day. I just knew, when I was there in Georgia, I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t leave her”.
Ms Winner suffered from depression and bulimia during her time in prison.
“Every time that I had to give in to my illness, I put it on my body,” she said. “I cut myself. Everywhere. I couldn’t leave my cell. I couldn’t work out. And all I could do was ask why and ask why. And a chaplain walked by. And I asked him why they were doing this to us and that same chaplain that I had seen for two years looked me in my face and said, ‘Nobody gives a f**k about y’all in here’. I started getting high that day. Everyone knows there’s drugs in prison. I was reduced to bingeing and purging. Getting high every day. And cutting myself.”
When asked if it was worth it, Ms Winner told CBS that she tries “so hard not to frame things as being worth it or not worth it. What I know is that I’m home with my parents. And we take our lives every day moving forward as being richer in knowing what to be grateful for”.
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