Federal Contractor Arrested for Leaking Top Secret Report

A federal contractor has been arrested for leaking a top secret classified document, reportedly in regards to Russian election interference.

The Justice Department announced the arrest of a federal contractor from Augusta, GA with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet, in violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 793(e).

Reality Leigh Winner, 25, is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation assigned to a U.S. government agency facility in Georgia.

According to the allegations in the criminal complaint (see below), Winner has been employed at the facility since on or about February 13, and has held a Top Secret clearance during that time.

On or about May 9, Winner printed and improperly removed classified intelligence reporting, which contained classified national defense information from an intelligence community agency, and unlawfully retained it. Approximately a few days later, Winner unlawfully transmitted by mail the intelligence reporting to an online news outlet.

The Intercept published a top secret NSA report on Russian election interference, and Winner’s arrest was made shortly after the article appeared online even though the Justice Department did not directly state it was the same case.

However, NBC News has confirmed that Winner is accused of being the source of that story.

Fox News published a photo that apparently came from Winner’s Instagram account identifying her and said that Winner’s lawyer declined to confirm which agency Winner worked for, but the article stated it was an “NSA contractor” accused of leaking the report. The NSA has a large facility in Georgia.

The Justice Department’s press release did not offer any reason for Winner’s motive for leaking the document, however, another news report published excerpts from her social media postings in which she expressed strong views that were critical of the Trump administration’s stance on the environment, suggesting that her political views were a likely motive. Many users weighed in on her Facebook page both in support and being critical of news about the allegations against her.

The affidavit (below) states that it was determined that six individuals had printed the report that was leaked, one of whom was Winner. It also states that Winner had email contact with the news outlet from her work computer, and that the news outlet had contacted the agency from where the document came.

The affidavit further states that when interviewed at her home in Georgia, Winner admitted to “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.” It then states that she admitted she took the report and mailed it to the news outlet.

“Winner further acknowledged that she was aware of the contents of the intelligence reporting and that she knew the contents of the reporting could be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign nation,” reads the affidavit.

“Exceptional law enforcement efforts allowed us quickly to identify and arrest the defendant,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. “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.”

Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, echoed Rosenstein’s sentiment. He said in an interview on Fox News, “They have got to get after these leaks. I want people in handcuffs and I want to see people behind bars.”

Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange disagrees. He said that Winner should be supported for her alleged actions, saying in a tweet, “She is a young woman accused of courage in trying to help us know,” and added, “Acts of non-elite sources communicating knowledge should be strongly encouraged.”

Denied Bond

Winner pleaded not guilty in court Thursday but was denied bond when prosecutors argued that she presented a potential flight risk and might be in possession of further stolen intelligence.

Prosecutors also alleged that two notebooks were found in her home in one of which she allegedly wrote, “I want to burn the White House down.”

2017-06-05 Winner Criminal Complaint Affidavit

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.