Insights & Analyses

Trump’s DOJ files charges over leaked NSA doc on Russian meddling in US elections

June 6, 2017

Following through on President Trump’s pledge to crack down on government leakers, his administration this week announced it will charge a former National Security Agency contractor for allegedly leaking classified intelligence to the press.

The Justice Department announced that a federal contractor from Augusta, Ga., was arrested on Saturday, June 3, in connection with the alleged leaking of classified material from a government facility to a media outlet.

The apparent NSA document was published by The Intercept, revealing it to be a details on Russian efforts to influence and interfere with U.S. elections last fall.

DOJ officials say they identified the suspect after they were provided a copy of the leaked document by a news organization

The NSA’s May 5 report detailed two cyberattacks by Russian military intelligence: One attack on a U.S. maker of voting machine software, and a phishing attempt on more than 100 local election officials prior to the general election last November.

In connection with the alleged breach, the U.S. Department of Justice has charged 25-year-old Reality Leigh Winner, who was a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation in Georgia. She began working there in February and held a top secret government security clearance during her tenure.

The DOJ alleges that Winner printed the intelligence document in question on May 9, and mailed it to an online news outlet a few days later. Winner’s arrest was announced on Monday, shortly after The Intercept published the apparent leaked document.

The DOJ did not identify The Intercept specifically, but did say that a news outlet came forward with questions about the document, and provided government officials with a copy. Officials saw creases in the scan, suggesting it had been printed, and then conducted an investigation into who had printed the document, leading them eventually back to Winner. Officials say they also found correspondence with the online news outlet in Winner’s email.

The Intercept launched in 2014 as a platform to report on documents released by ex-NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden. Most recently, Snowden was the keynote speaker at One World Identity’s K(NO)W Identity Conference in May, where he tackled the question of how well companies need to know their customers to do business.

With a focus on government leaks, The Intercept offers a number of suggestions for prospective informants, including being cognizant of what they share on social media, and not contacting publications directly from work. The site also suggests that leakers share information through its SecureDrop server.

The case against Winner marks the first time the Trump administration has charged an alleged leaker, though it’s not likely to be the last. Trump himself has repeatedly said he intends to crack down on leaks and prosecute any who are responsible for them.

“The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time. They can’t even… find the leakers within the FBI itself,” he wrote in a pair of tweets in February. “Classified information being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S.”

He added, in all caps for emphasis: “FIND NOW.”