Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor at the NSA, has been accused of leaking a classified report containing what has been described as “Top Secret Level” information on Russia’s attempt to meddle in the 2016 US Presidential election. Winner appeared in court Monday.
According to the Washington Examiner, Winner was employed by Pluribus International Corporation and had been assigned to a U.S. government facility in Georgia since February, working in a position that granted her a top-level security clearance. Her arrest was announced about an hour after The Intercept published a story based on an NSA document detailing Russian attempts to hack American voting systems in 2016.
Although the Justice Department hasn’t stated whether Winner was arrested in connection with The Intercept‘s story, the site noted that the National Security Agency (NSA) report cited in its story was dated May 5, a date shared by an affidavit supporting her arrest. According to The Intercept‘s report, Russian military intelligence had “executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016 evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions, according to information that became available in April 2017.”
It is believed the hackers then used that data to create a new email account to launch what is referred to as a “spear-phishing” campaign aimed at US local government organizations. “Lastly, the actors send test emails to two non-existent accounts ostensibly associated with absentee balloting, presumably with the purpose of creating those accounts to mimic legitimate services,” according to the report.
Titus Thomas Nichols, Winner’s attorney, declined to confirm whether his client had been accused of leaking the document. “My client has no [criminal] history, so it’s not as if she has a pattern of having done anything like this before,” Nichols said in a phone interview on Monday to the Associated Press. “She is a very good person. All this craziness has happened all of a sudden.”
An affidavit sworn by FBI agent Justin Garrick claimed that the government was notified of the leaked report by the news outlet that received it and the agency that housed the report determined only six employees had made physical copies, one of whom was Winner. The affidavit also stated that Garrick interviewed Winner at her home and she “admitted intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue” and mailing it to the news outlet. Titus Nichols, her attorney, claims she hasn’t said or shown any form of confession.