A federal contractor in Georgia has been charged with passing classified information to a news outlet.
Reality Leigh Winner, 25, was arrested on Saturday and appeared in federal court on Monday. In a statement, the Justice Department said that Winner had admitted to removing classified intelligence from her workspace in Augusta, Georgia, the soon-to-be home of the US Army Cyber Command near Fort Gordon. Winner further admitted to mailing the material to a news outlet, which the DOJ did not identify.
Shortly after news of Winner’s arrest broke, NBC News reported that the news outlet was The Intercept, citing federal officials. Gizmodo was unable to immediately verify the name of the news outlet.
Winner’s affidavit, however, notes that an unidentified US government agency—presumably the National Security Agency—was contacted by the news outlet on May 30 about an upcoming report, precluding any breaking news articles involving classified material prior to that date.
On Monday, the Intercept published a top-secret NSA document which it said had been anonymously provided to the website. The document, dated May 5, offered new insight into the US government’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election—namely that the hackers “focused on parts of the system directly connected to the voter registration process.”
The document, which did not include raw intelligence, revealed that the NSA believes Russian hackers breached at least one electronic-voting vendor based in Florida, while it maintained that it was unclear whether or not the cyberattacks had had any effect on the election’s outcome.
Moreover, the document reflects NSA’s confidence that the hackers—members of a special Russian military intelligence unit—attempted to infect more than 100 local election officials with malware in phishing operation involving a faux-Google website. (A joint Intelligence Community report released on January 6 stated that Homeland Security had assessed “that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying.”)
President Vladimir Putin of Russia has adamantly denied Kremlin involvement in any election hacking and US President Donald Trump has sought publicly to shut down the FBI’s investigation into cyberattacks targeting the Democratic party last summer.
Update, 7:30pm: A search warrant for Winner’s home indicates she was employed by Pluribus International Corporation, a federal defense, security and intelligence contractor. She started at Pluribus around February 13 and prior to that served four years in US Air Force.
The warrant states that the news outlet, presumed to be The Intercept, shared the leaked document with a government agency to confirm its veracity. The agency noticed that the pages of the document appeared to be creased, indicating it may have been printed and carried out of a secured workspace by hand.
An Intercept reporter also allegedly shared the document with another government contractor, “with whom [the reporter] has a prior relationship,” the warrant says. The contractor was asked to help verify the document, but after telling the reporter it was fake, reported the interaction to a US agency instead.
The reporter also allegedly informed the contractor (and thus the agency) that the document arrived in an envelope postmarked “Augusta, Georgia.” The warrant also lists Winner’s residence in Augusta.
An audit at Winner’s workplace revealed that six individuals had printed out the document, including Winner, but only she subscribed to the news outlet, allegedly, using a personal email account. The warrant also claims that Winner emailed the outlet in March to request a podcast transcript.