NSA contractor Reality Winner arrested for leaking national secrets: How Justice Department nabbed her

Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old defence intelligence contractor, was charged with sending a classified report about Russia’s interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election to the news media by the Justice Department, The New York Times reported on 5 June. She worked for Pluribus International Corporation at a government facility in Georgia and held top security clearance according to The Guardian. This is the first criminal leak case under President Donald Trump.

Time reported that the Justice Department announced the case against Winner a few hours after the national security news outlet The Intercept published the document, a 5 May intelligence report from the National Security Agency (NSA). The Intercept said the report had been submitted anonymously. But shortly after its article was published, the Justice Department said that the FBI had arrested Winner.

NSA contractor Reality Winner. Instagram @reezlie

NSA contractor Reality Winner. Instagram @reezlie

An FBI affidavit detailed the identification of Winner as the source, reported CNN. After The Intercept obtained the document, it gave the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence a copy of the document and asked for comment. An examination of this copy revealed that the pages of the report appeared to be folded or creased, "suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space." An internal audit was conducted which found that six people had printed the report, one of which was allegedly Winner. Out of the six, Winner was the only one whose desk computer had email contact with the news outlet.

Winner had also asked for podcast transcripts in the message, according to Business Insider. The report further said that another government contractor had informed the NSA that a reporter had messaged him pictures of the document to confirm whether it was real. The journalist had also said that the documents were mailed from Augusta, Georgia (the city where Winner was employed).

Security expert Rob Graham writing for Errata Security detailed how Winner's printing the document led to her getting caught. "Because the NSA logs all printing jobs on its printers, it can use this to match up precisely who printed the document," he wrote. According to him, the printed documents have nearly invisible yellow dots that help track where any document was printed.

The affidavit also mentioned that Winner had allegedly admitted to printing the report and mailing it to the news outlet during a conversation with an FBI special agent at her home on 3 June.

The New York Times quoted Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein as saying that “Releasing classified material without authorisation 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." He further added that exceptional law enforcement efforts had led to the quick identification and arrest the defendant.

Wikileaks blamed The Intercept for Winner's quick arrest as they had handed over the printed documents to the NSA.


Published Date: Jun 07, 2017 10:28 am | Updated Date: Jun 07, 2017 10:48 am


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