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Trump Administration makes first leak arrest

The US Department of Justice announced on Monday that it has arrested 25-year-old Reality Leigh Winner on charges of mishandling and releasing to a news outlet classified information. The Intercept published a top secret NSA report on Russian hacking efforts in the 2016 election shortly before the DOJ announcement.

Winner, a federal contractor, appeared in court in Georgia on Monday and is currently in custody. Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told the Daily Beast that Reality returns to court on Thursday, 8 June, for a bail hearing. Winner-Davis told reporters that her daughter is “very passionate. Very passionate about her
views and things like that, but she’s never to my knowledge been active in politics.”

The DOJ press release indicates Winner is charged with violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 793(e), a subsection of the Espionage Act which carries 10 years in prison. The Obama Administration made extensive use of the statute in its aggressive pursuit of leakers.

The DOJ states that, according to the criminal complaint against her:

Winner agreed to talk with agents during the execution of the warrant. During that conversation, Winner admitted intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue despite not having a “need to know,” and with knowledge that the intelligence reporting was classified. Winner further admitted removing the classified intelligence reporting from her office space, retaining it, and mailing it from Augusta, Georgia, to the news outlet, which she knew was not authorized to receive or possess the documents.

The Intercept piece reveals that the GRU – Russian military intelligence – attempted to infiltrate an American voting machine supplier and sent phishing emails to over 100 local election officials in the days leading up to the 2016 Presidential election.

The document, dated 5 May 2017, appears to have come from the from the NSA and details the agency’s analysis of its intelligence, not the US government’s singular viewpoint. As the reporters caution,

While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A U.S. intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive.

It appears that Winner was discovered because she emailed reporters from her work email account, and because The Intercept, in notifying the government of their intent to publish, provided a copy of the document, the nature of which led government agents to Winner.