In a world filled with hidden government corruption and greed, whistleblowers are often the only people to reveal the cruel truth. The highly anticipated HBO film Reality tackles the topics of intelligence leaks and election interference, based on the true story of Reality Leigh Winner. Euphoria breakout star Sydney Sweeney was cast to play the veteran and NSA translator who shared classified documents about Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. What follows is an explosive look into the young woman’s strange takedown by the FBI, which ends with her in handcuffs, slapped with the longest prison sentence ever seen for leaking government information, and a "terrorist sympathizer" label to go with it.
The real Winner, recently released from prison, has said in an interview on 60 Minutes that she “only acted out of love for what this country stands for.”
Reality released on HBO's streaming platform on May 29th, 2023. Whether you saw the film and want to know more, or have a general interest in the topic, keep reading to discover books that explore whistleblowers, intelligence leaks, election interference, Russia, and more.
Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs
Focused on the same subject as the new film Reality, Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs is a compelling and entertaining look into the takedown of Reality Winner. Tracing her journey from a regular southern Texas upbringing to her career in the military and with the NSA through her arrest and imprisonment, Kerry Howley gives us Reality in her truest form. The whistleblower who shared classified information on Russia’s election interference is brought to life with Howley’s masterful narrative nonfiction writing. This is an essential read before or after watching HBO’s film.
The Plot to Hack America
From intelligence and foreign policy analyst Malcolm Nance comes this deep-dive into the Russian hackers who influenced the 2016 American presidential election. Leading up to the election, the Democratic National Committee found that someone had stolen classified information from their computer servers. The hackers helped themselves to the Clinton campaign folder, obtaining phone numbers, credit cards, sensitive documents, emails, and more. And worse, a further investigation conducted by the FBI discovered that over 25 election offices had their voter registration programs infiltrated by hackers. This deliberate attack on American democracy made one thing clear: Russia was determined to see Donald Trump in office, no matter the cost.
The Plot to Destroy Democracy
Another insightful and shocking exposé of Russia's relations with Donald Trump from Malcolm Nance, this book offers a play-by-play of how Vladimir Putin and his team of spies used every resource at their disposal to quietly influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Nance explores Russia’s past ties with right-wing extremists throughout U.S. history to tear down Western democracy and spread their own political order. Discover how Trump was used as a pawn in a larger chess game, puppeteered by Putin to destabilize the West for Russia. And learn what could happen if we are unable to stop Russia's next attack on democracy.
The 2016 U.S. presidential election wasn’t the first instance of Russian interference in elections. In this explosive account, David Shimer exposes the long history of Russia's covert electoral meddling, drawing a clear map from past schemes to the present. With extensive research and hundreds of interviews with government officials, Shimer shows how Russia has wormed its way into American politics by influencing voter behavior rather than messing with the actual vote count. This is an essential read to understanding how we must use these lessons of the past to salvage our democracy.
From a talented group of journalists comes the first comprehensive account of WikiLeaks. Focusing on the platform's founder, Australian editor Julian Assange, this story paints a clear picture of the man behind numerous intelligence leaks. WikiLeaks publishes sensitive documents and classified information from anonymous sources, providing an unprecedented level of transparency in government dealings. But much of this secret data is found through a team of skilled hackers working their way into the servers and files of top officials. Some praise Assange for enhancing democratic discourse, while others see him as a cyber terrorist. Decide for yourself after reading this dramatic record of the man behind the leaks.
Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud
Whistleblowers expose the wrongdoing and corruption of powerful people and institutions who seek to cover up their actions. Author Tom Mueller offers a sweeping account of the history of watchdogs and an argument that this practice is necessary for preserving our democracy. Over the past 20 years, whistleblowers have served as the people’s informants, sharing the unethical and even illegal activity of government officials and business leaders. Discover the stories of some famous whistleblowers and their unfortunate takedown by the very people they worked to stop.
Featured still from 'Reality' via HBO.