Federal Contractor Charged with Leaking Classified Information to 'The Intercept'

The leaked documents provided new details about the extent and nature of Russian hacking in the November 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Published June 5, 2017

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On 5 June 2017, the Department of Justice announced that it had charged a government contractor, 25-year old Reality Leigh Winner, with "removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet".

According to a Department of Justice press release:

Winner is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation assigned to a U.S. government agency facility in Georgia. She has been employed at the facility since on or about February 13, and has held a Top Secret clearance during that time.

On or about May 9, Winner printed and improperly removed classified intelligence reporting, which contained classified national defense information from an intelligence community agency, and unlawfully retained it. Approximately a few days later, Winner unlawfully transmitted by mail the intelligence reporting to an online news outlet.

According to their web site, Pluribus International Corporation specializes in "providing high quality analytical, operational, engineering, and program management support services to Federal Government customers".

While the official statements did not specify the nature of the documents or the media outlet to which they were sent, NBC News confirmed via a "senior federal official" that the outlet in question was The Intercept, and that the document leaked to them describes "new details about Russian efforts to hack voting systems in the U.S a week prior to the 2016 presidential election".

That report, published the same day as the arrest, refuted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s widely-reported claim that his country had not officially engaged in interfering with the American election at the state level:

The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document.

An affidavit filed in support of Winner’s arrest warrant explained that investigators located her as a source based on the tri-folded crease pattern in a scanned version of the document published by the outlet to which it was leaked:

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 Agency] conducted an internal audit to determine who accessed the intelligence reporting since its publication. [They] 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.

During a search of her property, the press release stated, Winner admitted to printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue and to "removing the classified intelligence reporting from her office space, retaining it, and mailing it from Augusta, Georgia, to the news outlet".

In a statement to NBC news, Winner’s lawyer, Titus Thomas Nichols, stressed that his client has no prior criminal history and is "looking forward to putting this behind her".


Department of Justice.   "Federal Government Contractor in Georgia Charged With Removing and Mailing Classified Materials to a News Outlet."     5 June 2017.

Williams, Pete, Dilanian, Ken, and Winter, Tom.   "Feds Arrest NSA Contractor in Leak of Top Secret Russia Document."     NBC News.   5 June 2017.

Cole, Matthew, Esposito, Richard, Biddle, Sam, and Grim, Ryan.   "Top-secret Nsa Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election."     NBC News.   5 June 2017.

Alex Kasprak is an investigative journalist and science writer reporting on scientific misinformation, online fraud, and financial crime.