A government contractor named Reality Leigh Winner is believed to be behind the recent leak of a top-secret NSA intelligence detailing Russia’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election. The bombshell documents were published by The Intercept Monday, and Winner was publicly identified as the suspected source of the leak shortly afterward.
Winner was arrested on Monday, June 5th, and charged shortly afterward for “removing classified material from the government facility where she worked and mailing it to a news outlet,” according to a formal announcement by the Justice Department. If found guilty, the 25-year-old Augusta, Georgia, native could face 10 years in prison.
Winner’s arrest makes hers the first criminal leak case since President Trump took office in January. Here, what we know so far about the leak, how it led to Winner’s arrest, and what comes next.
What are the documents Winner is accused of leaking?
ABC News reports that Winner’s arrest is linked to a May 5th intelligence document that The Intercept published Monday, which revealed detailed information about how the Russian military intelligence unit, the G.R.U., perpetrated two cyberattacks that may have impacted the 2016 presidential election. The first of the two attacks involved a Russian hack into a software company that created devices used to maintain and verify voter rolls. The second involved a phishing scheme that targeted employees of government agencies. It is unclear how much success either of the attacks had, though the intelligence document suggests that they were designed to sabotage the elections. (The Intercept is best known for publishing leaked documents provided by former CIA operative Edward Snowden in 2013.)
Why did Winner choose the Intercept?
Though the Intercept did not name its source, ABC News reports that a series of related events that began this past March led authorities straight to Winner once the documents were published.
On March 22nd, The Intercept posted a podcast that discussed the public outcry over Russia’s alleged interference with the U.S. presidential elections, with Intercept reporter Glenn Greenwald and podcast host Jeremy Scahill both agreeing that, while it seemed “very possible” that Russia had a hand in Trump’s victory, there was very little hard evidence to back up that theory.
A search warrant affidavit filed in federal court in Georgia – which is accessible to the public and was reviewed by the Washington Post – shows that a just over a week later, Winner contacted The Intercept using a Gmail account, asking for a transcript of the podcast. This detail would later be key to authorities’ ability to trace the leak to Winner. Then, when the classified NSA documents in question were released more than a month later, on May 5th, Winner allegedly found the document, printed it out and mailed it to The Intercept.
How did authorities track her down?
Investigators later noted that Winner was just one of six individuals who had printed out the intelligence document, according to an internal audit of the agency that housed the report, and the only one who contacted the news outlet. (Creases on the acquired document, as well as an invisible dot pattern that identifies when and where documents are printed, also reportedly helped authorities to name Winner as a possible leaker.)
In an affidavit, FBI agent Justin Garrick said that he interviewed Winner at her home on Saturday, June 3rd, and that she “admitted intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue,” as well as sending the document to a news outlet.
What has been the response to her arrest?
Deputy Rod J. Rosenstein issued a statement Monday condemning Winner’s actions. “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.”
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, called for the public to support Winner as a young woman “accused of courage in trying to help us know.” Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told The Daily Beast Monday that her daughter has always been very outspoken about her beliefs.
Alleged NSA whistleblower Reality Leigh Winner must be supported. She is a young women accused of courage in trying to help us know. pic.twitter.com/B4aIdt7qz6
— Julian Assange (@JulianAssange) June 6, 2017
“[She’s] very passionate about her views and things like that, but she’s never to my knowledge been active in politics or any of that,” she told the site.
What happens next?
Winner’s court-appointed attorney, Titus Nichols, told CNN that a detention hearing will take place on Thursday in Augusta, where a judge will determine whether or not she will be allowed to be released on bond. “She’s just been caught in the middle of something bigger than her,” he told the outlet.