NSA Contractor Arrested For Leaking Classified Documents On Russian Hacking To The Media

Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor at the NSA, was arrested for leaking a classified report containing what has been described as “Top Secret Level” information on Russia’s attempt to interfere with the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Winner appeared in federal court on June 5, facing one charge of removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.

Winner was employed by Pluribus International Corporation and had been assigned to a U.S. government facility in Georgia since February, working in a position that granted her a top-level security clearance. She had also previously held a similar clearance with the U.S. Air Force. Her arrest was announced about an hour after The Intercept published a story based on an NSA document detailing Russian attempts to hack American voting systems in 2016. Although the Justice Department hasn’t stated whether Winner was arrested in connection with The Intercept‘s story, the site noted that the National Security Agency (NSA) report cited in its story was dated May 5, a date shared by an affidavit supporting her arrest.

According to The Intercept‘s report, Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, conducted the cyber attacks described in the document:

“Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions. … The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to … launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.”

An affidavit sworn by FBI Agent Justin Garrick claimed that the government was notified of the leaked report by the news outlet that received it and the agency that housed the report determined only six employees had made physical copies, one of whom was Winner. The affidavit also stated that Garrick interviewed Winner at her home and she “admitted intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue” and mailing it to the news outlet.

“The U.S. Government Agency examined the document shared by the News Outlet and determined the pages of the intelligence reporting appeared to be folded and/or creased, suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space,” the affidavit continued.

Titus Thomas Nichols, Winner’s attorney, declined to confirm whether his client had been accused of leaking the document. “My client has no [criminal] history, so it’s not as if she has a pattern of having done anything like this before,” Nichols said in a phone interview on Monday to the Associated Press. “She is a very good person. All this craziness has happened all of a sudden,” adding that she hadn’t stated or shown any form of confession.

Winner remains in federal custody pending a hearing scheduled for June 8.

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