Augusta contractor charged with leaking classified NSA info on Russian hacking

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) – A Georgia woman charged with leaking U.S. government secrets to a reporter shared sometimes scathing opinions on President Donald Trump before her arrest.

Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old government contractor, remained locked up Tuesday on federal charges that she mailed a classified report to an online news outlet.

The Justice Department announced her arrest Monday as The Intercept reported that it had obtained a classified report suggesting Russian hackers attacked a U.S. voting software supplier days before last year’s presidential election.

Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, says her daughter moved to Georgia after six years in the Air Force and “believes in always doing what’s right.”

On Facebook, Winner posted concerns about climate change and lamented that “people voted for a soulless ginger orangutan.”


(ABC NEWS) – Reality Winner, a government contractor accused of leaking top secret National Security Agency intelligence on Russia’s alleged interference in last year’s election, was arrested on Monday, according to court documents filed in the case.

Within hours of the arrest, the Department of Justice announced she had been charged with removing classified material from the government facility where she worked and mailing it to a news outlet. She could now face 10 years in prison.

A source with knowledge of the matter later confirmed to ABC News that the charges stemmed from a May 5, 2017, intelligence document published on Monday by The Intercept, an online news organization best known for its publication and coverage of leaked documents on government activities provided by Edward Snowden.

Winner’s background

Winner of Augusta, Georgia, is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation, authorities said. She had been working at an unidentified government facility in Georgia “since on or about Feb. 13” and held a top secret security clearance, according to authorities.

She is a former Air Force linguist who speaks Pashto, Farsi and Dari, according to her attorney, and had recently worked as a yoga instructor at Oh Yeah Yoga in Augusta.

“She is still in federal custody and we have a detention hearing on Thursday to determine if she’ll be released before trial,” her attorney, Titus Thomas Nichols, told ABC News in a statement Monday night. “She’s a good person with no criminal history who is caught in a political whirlwind.”

Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, described her as a “very passionate” person who was outspoken about her beliefs.

“Very passionate about her views and things like that, but she’s never to my knowledge been active in politics or any of that,” Winner-Davis told The Daily Beast on Monday.

How the alleged leak started

On March 22, The Intercept hosted a podcast online looking at, among other things, the public outcry over Russia’s alleged collusion with associates of President Donald Trump and the Kremlin’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election.

Host Jeremy Scahill said “there is a tremendous amount of hysterics” and “a lot of premature conclusions being drawn around all of this Russia stuff,” but “there’s not a lot of hard evidence to back it up.”

Appearing as a guest on the podcast, Intercept reporter Glenn Greenwald agreed, saying that while “it’s very possible” Russia was behind election-related hacks last year, “we still haven’t seen any evidence for it.”

Little more than a week later, Winner allegedly used a Gmail account to contact The Intercept, and she “appeared to request transcripts of a podcast,” court documents said.

More than a month later, the NSA secretly issued the classified document now at the center of the leak case. And within days, Winner allegedly found it, printed it out and mailed it to The Intercept.

How it all came to light

On May 30, three weeks after Winner allegedly printed the classified document, The Intercept contacted the U.S. government, likely through the NSA, to discuss an upcoming story based on the intelligence document it had obtained. The Intercept even shared a copy of the document with government officials, who confirmed that it was indeed classified at the top secret level, “indicating that its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security,” the affidavit said.

Two days later, the FBI was notified of the matter and initiated an investigation to determine the source of the leak.

Further analysis of the documents showed that they “appeared to be folded and/or creased, suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secure space,” according to the affidavit.

Winner was one of just six individuals who had printed the intelligence document, according to an internal audit of the agency that housed the report. The audit also revealed that Winner was the only individual of the group that had email contact with the news outlet.

FBI agent Justin Garrick said in the affidavit filed with the court that he interviewed Winner at her home on Saturday and that she “admitted intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue” and sent it to a news outlet.

The news outlet was not identified in the charging documents, but a source with knowledge of the matter confirmed that the charges were connected to The Intercept’s Monday report titled: “Top-Secret NSA report details Russian hacking effort days before 2016 election.”

The potential impact

As stated above, the leaked document has provided the public with the most detailed account yet of how Russian hackers targeted American election systems.

The Intercept posted a redacted classified NSA document, detailing how Russian hackers allegedly infiltrated outside vendors dealing with voter-related information ahead of last year’s presidential election.

The document said Russian military intelligence “executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016 evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions, according to information that became available in April 2017.”

ABC News’ Mike Levine contributed to this report.

 


(CNN)/(WJBF) – The Justice Department announced charges Monday against a federal contractor with Top Secret security clearance after she allegedly leaked classified information to an online media outlet.

Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation in Georgia, is accused of “removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet,” according to a federal complaint.
CNN is told by sources that the document Winner allegedly leaked is the same one used as the basis for the article published Monday by The Intercept, detailing a classified National Security Agency memo. The NSA report, dated May 5, provides details of a 2016 Russian military intelligence cyberattack on a US voting software supplier, though there is no evidence that any votes were affected by the hack.
A US official confirmed to CNN that The Intercept’s document is a genuine, classified NSA document.
US intelligence officials tell CNN that the information has not changed the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, which found: “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards. DHS assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.”
Prosecutors say when confronted with the allegations, Winner admitted to intentionally leaking the classified document — and she was arrested June 3 in Augusta, Georgia.
An internal audit revealed Winner was one of six people who printed the document, but the only one who had email contact with the news outlet, according to the complaint. It further states that the intelligence agency was subsequently contacted by the news outlet on May 30 regarding an upcoming story, saying it was in possession of what appeared to be a classified document.
The Intercept’s director of communications Vivian Siu told CNN the document was provided anonymously.
“As we reported in the story, the NSA document was provided to us anonymously. The Intercept has no knowledge of the identity of the source,” Siu said.
“Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government. People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement Monday.
Winner faces up to 10 years in prison for leaking classified information. Winner’s court-appointed attorney, Titus Nichols, said a detention hearing will take place on Thursday in Augusta, where the judge will determine whether to release her on bond. Winner did not enter a plea in her initial appearance Monday.
Last month Attorney General Jeff Sessions slammed leaks in the wake of the Manchester attacks, saying: “We have already initiated appropriate steps to address these rampant leaks that undermine our national security.”
Winner’s mother said that her daughter is “touch and go” in an interview with CNN on Monday.
“I think she’s trying to be brave for me,” Billie Winner said. “I don’t think she’s seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.”
She also said her daughter wasn’t especially political and had not ever praised past leakers like Edward Snowden, to her knowledge.
“She’s never ever given me any kind of indication that she was in favor of that at all,” her mother said. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the former Democratic vice presidential candidate, said on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” that people who leak classified information should face the full force of the law, but added that Americans need to know much more about alleged Russian attempts to influence the election.
“Somebody who leaks documents against laws has got to suffer the consequences” Kaine said. “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.”
Kaine noted he knew of no evidence that showed Russia affected machine voting totals and said he was referring to intelligence assessments that Russia had acted to influence the election.
In October 2016, CNN reported that federal investigators believe Russian hackers were behind cyberattacks on a contractor for Florida’s election system that may have exposed the personal data of Florida voters, according to US officials briefed on the probe.
The hack of the Florida contractor came on the heels of hacks in Illinois, in which personal data of tens of thousands of voters may have been stolen, and one in Arizona, in which investigators believe the data of voters was likely exposed.
The October information appears to be part of what is contained in the new NSA document, but the document contains additional details.
Most significantly, as CNN reported at the time, and The Intercept also reports Monday based on the this document, that there is still no evidence any votes were affected by Russian hacking.

 

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