Contractor Arrested and Charged in NSA Leak

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 07, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Reality Leigh Winner, a Georgia-based government contractor, was arrested on Monday and charged with "removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet." Winner is believed to be the source of a document leaked to the Intercept which purported to demonstrate the Russian government's efforts to hack the 2016 presidential election.

Winner has been charged under the Espionage Act for transmitting NSA intelligence to the press, the first criminal leak prosecution under President Donald Trump.

Communicate and Transmit

18 U.S.C. § 793 prohibits anyone with "unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document ... or information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation" from communicating, delivering, or transmitting it "to any person not entitled to receive it."

Winner allegedly copied a May 5th intelligence document that detailed how the GRU, a Russian military intelligence unit, carried two cyberattacks aimed at influencing last year's election. The first attacks involved hacking into the software company that created devices used to maintain and verify voter rolls, while the second involved a phishing scheme targeting employees of government agencies. Rumors have long circulated about Russia's alleged efforts to influence or sabotage the last presidential election, and to many the leaked documents are a smoking gun proving those efforts, even if they don't prove whether those efforts were successful.

Copy and Paste

According to the Department of Justice, Winner printed the classified intelligence reporting, took it home, and then a few days later, sent the documents to the Intercept via a Gmail account she created on her work computer. Investigators, identifying creases and an invisible dot pattern on the document that identifies when and where it was printed narrowed their focus to Winner and five other individuals, and she was allegedly the only one who contacted the news outlet. FBI agent Justin Garrick also claimed that Winner "admitted intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue" when interviewed at her home.

Violations of the Espionage Act carry 10-year prison sentences, and, according to one infamous leaker, their prosecution is a little different than for other crimes:

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