Reality Leigh Winner, an NSA contractor with the Pluribus International Corporation, will become the first person charged for leaking classified documents under President Trump. Winner is charged with sharing classified documents pertaining to the 2016 election hack with The Intercept — with information published earlier Monday by the organization. Winner was arrested on Saturday by law enforcement according to a statement from the Justice Department, earning praise from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein on the operation:
“Exceptional law enforcement efforts allowed us quickly to identify and arrest the defendant…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.”
Winner had been employed at a U.S. intelligence facility in Georgia since February, accessing and printing off the materials in question on May 9th according to the statement. The FBI obtained a warrant after identifying Winner as their suspect, admitting to agents executing the warrant that she had printed the classified intelligence report.
How the authorities managed to track down Winner may be the more interesting aspect of the situation, mostly for its lack of secrecy. The New York Times reports that the Justice Department released the details of the case an hour after The Intercept report was released, with the accompanying FBI affidavit outlining details behind the investigation:
The report described two cyberattacks by Russia’s military intelligence unit, the G.R.U. — one in August against a company that sells voter registration-related software and another, a few days before the election, against 122 local election officials.
The F.B.I. affidavit said reporters for the news outlet, which it also did not name, had approached the N.S.A. with questions for their story and, in the course of that dialogue, provided a copy of the document in their possession. An analysis of the file showed it was a scan of a copy that had been creased or folded, the affidavit said, “suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.”
The N.S.A.’s auditing system showed that six people had printed out the report, including Ms. Winner. Investigators examined the computers of those six people and found that Ms. Winner had been in email contact with the news outlet, but the other five had not.
Winner’s decision and motive is still a mystery, but the timeline of events seems to indicate that the repercussions of the leak were at least expected.
Also helping to support that idea is the reaction from her family following the release of the Justice Department statement. Her family was aware of the situation before the DoJ announcement, but it is her mother’s reaction and statement to The Daily Beast that seems to reveal Winner knows the gravity of the situation and transmitted it via a simple request:
“I don’t know what they’re alleging,” she said, asking for specifics from the DOJ’s press release. “What do you know?”
Winner-Davis said the allegations against her daughter were vague when they spoke Sunday.
“I don’t know who she might have sent it to,” she said. “[DOJ] were very vague. They said she mishandled and released documents that she shouldn’t have, but we had no idea what it pertained to or who.”
The most her daughter talked about was her pets.
“She called us yesterday night. She asked if we could help out with relocating her cat and dog,” Winner-Davis said.
The FBI investigation is still ongoing according to the DoJ statement and Winner faces a maximum sentence of up to 10 years under the Espionage Act. Prosecution of leaks under President Obama earned him comparisons to Richard Nixon back in 2013, though most leak cases led to sentences of “one to three years” according to the New York Times. President Trump has been reported to want a “crackdown” on leaks, so it remains to be seen how this will be treated once it finally hits a courtroom. It is a situation that could set a troubling precedent for whistle-blowers in the future.