Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old contractor with Pluribus International Corporation, was charged in federal court Monday for allegedly leaking a National Security Agency (NSA) report on Russian Election hacking to left-wing news site The Intercept.
In the criminal complaint handed down in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Winner is charged with “Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information” in relation to an alleged scheme to leak a May NSA report to the media.
According to the supporting affidavit, Winner printed the report, for which she had no “need to know,” smuggled it from an unnamed U.S. intelligence agency facility in Georgia, and later transmitted it to an unnamed news outlet.
The matter was serious enough that the nation’s number two law enforcement official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, felt it necessary to weigh in. In the press release announcing Winner’s charging, Rosenstein wrote:
Exceptional law enforcement efforts allowed us quickly to identify and arrest the defendant … 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.
She was caught only when that news outlet asked the intelligence agency to comment on the document last Tuesday. Upon realizing the document was, in fact, classified material, the agency quickly enlisted the FBI for an internal investigation that pointed to Reality Winner as the source of the leaks.
While the affidavit makes no mention of which news outlet Reality Winner sent the stolen material to, NBC News Cyber Security Reporter Tom Winter later tweeted that a senior federal official confirmed it was left-leaning investigative news site The Intercept.
As news of Winner’s arraignment broke, the lead story on The Intercept was, in fact, an in-depth piece based on a purported NSA document with the same date, May 5, given in the affidavit supporting Winner’s charging.
This is not only recent controversy involving The Intercept, which was founded specifically to dig into the American intelligence apparatus. Intercept writer Juan Thompson was fired last year for fabricating stories about the racially-charged tragedy at South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, apparently to play up stereotypes of racist white southerners and smear Donald Trump supporters. This March, Thompson was the first person arrested for calling in threats to Jewish community centers as part of a nationwide intimidation campaign that was also widely blamed by the media on Trump supporters.
Reality Winner, who, according to a Justice Department press release, was arrested Saturday, held a “top secret” clearance in relation with her work for Pluribus, a defense and intelligence contractor. According to the affidavit, when questioned, she admitted to printing the document and sending it to the media from her home in Augusta, Georgia.
The Daily Mail later trawled the idiosyncratically named millennial accused’s social media, revealing images of a smiling young woman with an impressive travelogue and range-time with a neon-pink-colored AR-15-style rifle.
Each count of 18 U.S.C. §793, the crime with which Ms. Winner is charged, carries a penalty of up to ten years in federal prison.