When FBI agents arrested 25-year-old federal contractor, Reality Leigh Winner, at her Augusta home this weekend, local residents were in total disbelief.
Not only did an Augustan make international news, but she is facing serious federal charges for sending a top-secret National Security Agency report about Russia’s possible activity in the 2016 presidential election to an online news outlet called The Intercept.
Winner is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation and has held Top Secret clearance at the NSA Georgia facility on Fort Gordon since the first part of February.
In May, Winner is accused of printing and improperly removing classified intelligence documents, which contained secret national defense information from the NSA, and mailing it to The Intercept.
After identifying Winner as a suspect, the FBI executed a search warrant at her Augusta home.
During the search, Winner surprisingly agreed to talk with agents.
The FBI says that Winner admitted to “intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting,” with the knowledge that the intelligence reporting was classified. Winner further admitted removing the classified intelligence reporting from her office, retaining it, and mailing it from Augusta to the news outlet.
That will not bode well for Winner.
According to an article published by The Intercept on June 5, the NSA report states Russian military intelligence officials executed a cyberattack on a U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials days before last November’s presidential election.
In the online story, The Intercept even states that the paper anonymously received the report.
“The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure,” The Intercept reported this week. “The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.”
The federal government only started investigating Winner after a reporter from The Intercept contacted another federal contractor seeking to verify the authenticity of the documents. That contractor, in turn, alerted the NSA.
The Intercept even allegedly provided the contractor a copy of the classified information.
According to the FBI, the pages appeared “folded and/or creased, suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.”
From there it didn’t take long for FBI to identify a handful of people who had printed out the materials, including Winner.
Then, the federal agents discovered she had email contact with The Intercept.
The obvious question becomes: What was Winner, a U.S. Air Force veteran with no criminal convictions, thinking?
While it is clear from her social media accounts that she is not a fan of President Trump, Winner had to know what she was doing and the consequences if caught, right?
Now, Winner could be facing up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted under the Espionage Act.
However, The New York Times this week reported that conventional leak cases have typically resulted in prison terms of one to three years.
But there are other questions being raised by the actions of The Intercept, as well.
The search warrant affidavit, which doesn’t specifically identify The Intercept, states the following:
“On or about May 24, 2017, a reporter for the News Outlet (the “Reporter”) contacted another U.S. Government Agency affiliate with whom he has a prior relationship. This individual works for a contractor for the U.S. Government (the “Contractor”). The Reporter contacted the Contractor via text message and asked him to review certain documents. The Reporter told the Contractor that the Reporter had received the documents through the mail, and they were postmarked ‘Augusta. Georgia.’”
Now, Winner currently lives in Augusta, so that little hint really helped narrow the federal government’s scope.
The search warrant affidavit continues by stating, “The Reporter believed that the documents were sent to him from someone working at the location where Winner works. The Reporter took pictures of the documents and sent them to the Contractor. The Reporter asked the Contractor to determine the veracity of the documents. The Contractor informed the Reporter that he thought that the documents were fake.”
So The Intercept sent this federal contractor photos of the actual top-secret documents?
The news outlet might as well have sent the federal government a photo of Winner at that point.
Now, the only party that appeared to handle the situation appropriately was the federal contractor that was contacted to verify the documents.
He contacted the NSA on June 1 to inform the U.S. agency of his interaction with the reporter from The Intercept.
“Also on June 1, 2017, the Reporter texted the Contractor and said that a U.S Government Agency official had verified that the document was real,” the affidavit states.
So, guess how many workers in Winner’s division printed out that top-secret document?
Only six, and Winner was one of them.
Talk about leaving a trail of breadcrumbs right to your door.
If Winner was that careless with top-secret documents, she definitely deserved to be caught, no matter her intentions.