Leaks

This is how not to leak top secret documents

Reality Winner, an NSA contractor, is accused of leaking a document to reporters

Leaks

This is how not to leak top secret documents

Reality Winner, an NSA contractor, is accused of leaking a document to reporters
Leaks

This is how not to leak top secret documents

Reality Winner, an NSA contractor, is accused of leaking a document to reporters

Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old federal contractor in Augusta, Georgia, was arrested Saturday for “removing classified material from a government facility” and sending that material to a news outlet, according to a Department of Justice press release.

Neither the news outlet nor relevant U.S. government agency are named; in the affidavit and statement released by the DOJ, they are referred to as U.S. Government Agency and News Outlet. However, the affidavit points to a story published today on The Intercept about a classified National Security Agency report — and highlights the mistakes Winner made in trying to get it to journalists.

The Intercept received a Top Secret NSA analysis that unequivocally points the finger at the GRU, a Russian intelligence agency, for attempting to hack U.S. local election officials as well as at least one U.S. voter software supplier.

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This is the first time we have evidence that Russia actually attacked American voting infrastructure, in addition to leaking emails from the Democratic National Committee. According to The Intercept’s analysis of the document, the NSA concluded the Russian hackers “focused on parts of the system directly connected to the voter registration process, including a private sector manufacturer of devices that maintain and verify the voter rolls.”

Winner didn’t protect herself from the highly sophisticated insider threat teams that exist within agencies like the NSA

Winner didn’t protect herself from the highly sophisticated insider threat teams that exist within agencies like the NSA. These teams have been on red alert ever since NSA contractor Edward Snowden took a trove of documents and turned them over to the media. Winner made a few big mistakes, including emailing The Intercept on another occasion from a computer at work, and printing the document that she eventually mailed to reporters. It’s unclear why Winner opted for this tactic, instead of, say, screenshotting the documents from a personal cell phone or screencapping them and then printing them.

Winner’s leak comes as President Trump has declared a war on leaks, but the Executive Order 13526 cited in the search warrant application, which states how confidential government information should be handled, was signed by President Obama.

Got that? Okay, here’s the timeline, all according to the affidavit, as well as our observations that suggest Winner’s arrest was about this Intercept report:

-On or about February 13, 2017, Winner started working at an unnamed US government facility in Georgia where she held a top secret security clearance. The NSA has had a facility in Atlanta, Georgia since 2012.

-The NSA report published by The Intercept was created on May 5. On May 9, Winner allegedly printed the report.

-Winner then mailed the document to an “online news outlet.” The Intercept, an online news outlet, advises that sending documents by mail is one of the secure ways to contact its reporters.

-On May 30, the online news outlet reached out to the unnamed “U.S. Government Agency” about an upcoming story. The government agency allegedly reviewed the document sent 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,” which prompted the agency to look into who had printed the document.

This is one place where The Intercept could have done more to protect its source, by obscuring the fact that the documents had been printed out. Instead, the copy it sent to the NSA, and the one it published online today, had visible crease marks.

-On June 3, law enforcement spoke to Winner at her home in Georgia, where she confessed to printing and mailing the document. She is presumably in custody, and her alleged Facebook profile is being flooded with comments like “good luck in jail!”

And according to an anonymous official speaking to NBC, Winner was arrested for leaking a document to The Intercept.

The affidavit says Winner could face up to ten years in prison for willfully leaking the document under section 18 § 793(e) of the U.S. Code, “Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information.”

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