Step aside Edward Snowden: the world has another leaking NSA contractor to obsess with, if only for the next 15 minutes.
As reported earlier, Reality Leigh Winner is the 25-year-old woman who stole “Top secret” documents from the National Security Agency and leaked them to The Intercept, "confirming" that the Russian military intelligence GRU was behind an attempt to hack more than 100 local election officials.
There may be more here, however, than meets the eye.
First, dome details on her background.
Winner was born in Texas in December 1991. She was raised in Kingsville, a small city in the south of the state, about 40 miles from Corpus Christi.
Sometime later she moved to Maryland. According to public records, she had on her record was one citation, issued December 13, 2016, in Howard, Maryland for failing to control her vehicle’s speed on a highway to avoid a collision. She reportedly went to H.M. King High School and lived in Columbia, Maryland at a time. She has a sister, Brittany, who is studying for a PhD in Pharmacology and Toxicology at Michigan State University.
Reality began working defense contractor Pluribus International Corporation,in Augusta, Georgia, in February this year, according to court filings (see below). She previously served in the US air force since January 2013 and held a top-secret security clearance, indicating she first got her top secret clearance in her early 20s.
Winner-Davis told the Guardian that her daughter had joined the military soon after graduating from H M King high school. As well as being bright academically, she excelled in tennis and athletics. “But she had gotten a little tired of school,” said her mother, and decided against continuing with college. The Guardian's Jon Swaine adds that according to Winner's mother, the leaker is a former US Air Force linguist who speaks Pashto, Farsi and Dari. “She speaks the middle eastern languages – Farsi, Dari and Pashto,” said Winner-Davis, who laughed when asked if she had taught them to her daughter. “No, she did it all on her own,” she said.
According to the affidavit filed by arresting FBI agent Justin Garrick, Winner was a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation, who was assigned to aNSA facility in Georgia. She was employed at the facility since February 13, 2017, and has held a Top Secret clearance during that time. Less than a month after she joined, on May 9, 2017, Winner printed and improperly removed classified intelligence reporting, which contained classified national defense information and was dated on or about May 5, 2017 from an Intelligence Community Agency and unlawfully retained it. A few days later, Winner then sent the classified material - apparently using the work email associated with her desk computer - to the Intercept.
Speaking to the Guardian, On Monday evening, her mother struggled to say whether her daughter’s alleged leak would constitute an act of bravery or a painful mistake. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” Winner-Davis said. “I don’t know what the hacking thing all means. Has it made a difference in the election? Who knows.” Her family knows little except that they are bewildered and concerned about the possible 10-year prison sentence that Winner could receive if convicted. “She’s a beautiful girl,” said her mother. “Everyone who meets her loves her, and she’s kind.”
Some details on how Winner was arrested:
on June I, 2017, the FBI was notified by the U.S. Government Agency that the U.S. Government Agency had been contacted by the News Outlet [Intercept] on May 30, 2017, regarding an upcoming story. The News Outlet informed the U.S. Government Agency that it was in possession of what it believed to be a classified document authored by the U.S. Government Agency. The News Outlet provided the U.S. Government Agency with a copy of this document. Subsequent analysis by the U.S. Government Agency confirmed that the document in the News Outlet's possession is the intelligence reporting. The intelligence reporting is classified at the Top Secret level, indicating that its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security, and is marked as such.
The U.S. Government Agency examined the document shared by the News Outlet and determined the pages of the intelligence reporting appeared to be folded and/or creased, suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.
The U.S. Government Agency conducted an internal audit to determine who accessed the intelligence reporting since its publication. The U.S. Government Agency determined that six individuals printed this reporting. WINNER was one of these six individuals. A further audit of the six individuals' desk computers revealed that WINNER had e-mail contact with the News Outlet. The audit did not reveal that any of the other individuals had e-mail contact with the News Outlet.
The moment of her arrest:
On June 3, 2017, [Garrick] spoke to WINNER at her home in Augusta, Georgia. During that conversation, WINNER admitted 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. WINNER further admitted removing the classified intelligence reporting from her office space, retaining it, and mailing it from Augusta, Georgia, to the News Outlet, which she knew was not authorized to receive or possess the documents. 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.
There are more notable details about Winner's social profile and her political leanings.
Three days before Americans voted last November, Reality Winner joked with her sister online that Moscow’s efforts to influence the US presidential election could have an upside for her as a keen weightlifter.
“When we become the United States of the Russian Federation,” she said on Facebook, “Olympic lifting will be the national sport.”
Here’s what Reality Winner posted on Facebook before the election: pic.twitter.com/vWDFnKkVNM— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) June 5, 2017
Seven months later, Winner, 25, called home to Texas on Saturday to let her family know that the Russian hacking saga had ended up landing her in a far more serious situation. “She said that she had been arrested by the FBI and that she couldn’t really talk about it,” her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told the Guardian in a telephone interview. “I am still in shock.”
As HuffPost's Ryan Reilly writes, looking at another of her facebook comments, "don't think Reality Winner is a Trump fan."
Don’t think Reality Winner is a Trump fan. pic.twitter.com/u4tQNC0zCz— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) June 5, 2017
That much is clear, and just to make her sentiment about Trump abundantly clear, she recently referred to President Trump as a “piece of shit” because of his position on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests. Lashing out at Trump, Winner posted on February 9:
"There have been protests for months, at both the drilling site and and outside the White House. I'm losing my mind. If you voted for this piece of shit, explain this. He's lying. He's blatantly lying and the second largest supply of freshwater in the country is now at risk. #NoDAPL #NeverMyPresident #Resist"
Her sentiments toward Trump aside, she appears to be a supporter of Bernie Sanders and other progressive icons, such as Bill Maher and Michael Moore. As the Caller's Chuck Ross reports, Reality Winner’s apparent social media footprint also shows that she is a supporter of other liberal causes, including the Women’s March and the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim civil rights group.
Judging by the following autographed photo of Anderson Cooper, Winner was a fan of the CNN anchor.
Other than her left-leaning Facebook page, Winner has a limited online footprint. One news article from the Kingsville (Tex.) Record shows that she graduated from Air Force basic training in March 2011. A photo of Winner has not been publicly released, but her Facebook page includes information that matches details contained in a federal indictment filed against her in New York on Monday.
Winner’s posts on Facebook suggest that she is politically active. On Feb. 14, a day after Winner took her Top Secret job at Pluribus, Winner posted a photo outside of the Atlanta offices of Georgia Sen. David Perdue.
Winner wrote that she had a 30-minute private meeting with the Republican lawmaker. She said they discussed “my concerns regarding climate change and what the state of Georgia is doing to reduce dependency on fossil fuels.”
“Meanwhile, my plea that our senators not be afraid to directly state when our president or his cabinet tell outright lies was well heard. I was able to draw the parallel between the 2011 interview of President Bashar al Assad claiming utter ignorance of the human rights violations his citizens were protesting to Trump’s statement last week that the White House hadn’t received any calls about the DAPL, nor were there any protests before last week. They got the message,” she wrote.
Winner was heavily critical of Trump just after he took office. She used the hashtag “NeverMyPresident” and “Resist” in a Facebook post about his position on DAPL.
Winner posted on Facebook most recently on Friday, the day before she was interviewed by the FBI. “You are what you love, not who loves you,” she wrote.
Finally, based on her profile, Reality inexpicably was at the White House, approximately one year before leaking.
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Winner faces 10 years in a federal prison if convicted. The charge, “gathering, transmitting or losing defense information” is contained under Chapter 37 of federal law: espionage and censorship. The law went into effect as of February 1, 2010.
The prosecution of Winner is being handled by Julie A. Edelstein of the Department of Justice’s National Security Divisions Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, a news release by the agency said.
However, what is most perplexing is that her anti-Trump tirades and her anti-government, liberal leanings were all part of the public record at the time she was hired as a NSA contractor for Pluribus in February. How she succeeded in receiving top secret level clearance with such a highly politicized public record remains a mystery.