Reality Leigh Winner, 25, was arrested this weekend for removing TOP SECRET information from a government facility and sending it to a news outlet.
The Justice Department announced Winner’s arrest shortly after The Intercept published a story on Russian hacking that referenced an NSA report dated May 5th.
While the DOJ did not specify whether Winner was being charged in connection with the story, the facts certainly point to that conclusion. The affidavit supporting her arrest said the report she leaked was dated “on or about” May 5th.
The NSA asked The Intercept not to publish the report, and US intelligence officials asked the website to redact certain sections.
According to the report, Russian intelligence “executed cyber espionage operations against a named US company in August 2016 evidently to obtain information on election-related software and hardware solutions, according to information that became available in April 2017.”
It is believed that the hackers used data from that operation to send “spear-phishing” emails to over 100 local elections officials and created accounts to mimic services associated with absentee balloting. There is no evidence that actual votes were affected by the cyberattack.
Winner was hired in February 2017 by Pluribus International Corporation. She worked at a US government facility in Georgia and had TOP SECRET security clearance.
FBI agent Justin Garrick, who interviewed Winner on Saturday, says she “admitted intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue” and mailing it to a news outlet. Winner’s attorney says she has not confessed.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange expressed support for Winner Monday on Twitter. “Alleged NSA whistleblower Reality Leigh Winner must be supported. She is a young woman accused of courage in trying to help up know.”
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine (D) understands Winner’s motivation but says she must be punished. “Somebody who leaks documents against laws has got to suffer the consequences. But the American public is also entitled to know the degree to which Russia invaded the election to take the election away from American voters.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) praised the arrest and criticized federal agencies for failing to protect sensitive information. “When you have classified information, you cannot put that out there just because you think it would be a good idea. I want people in handcuff and I want to see people behind bars.”
Winner faces up to 10 years in prison for a single charge of “gathering, transmitting, or losing defense information.”
Author’s Note: Willfully compromising classified information (AKA “espionage”) is a federal crime. Winner should go to jail, but judging by the Clinton email probe we can expect leniency from the DOJ.