Hey Intercept, Something Is Very Wrong With Reality Winner and the NSA Leak
Peter Van Buren
An NSA document purporting to show Russian military hacker attempts to access a Florida company which makes voter registration software is sent anonymously to The Intercept. A low-level NSA contractor, Reality Winner, above, is arrested almost immediately. What’s wrong with this picture? A lot.
Start with the question of who benefits – cui bono – same as detectives do when assessing a crime.
• Trump looks bad as another trickle of information comes out connecting something Russian to something 2016 election. Intelligence community (IC) looks like they are onto something, a day or so before ousted FBI Director James Comey testifies before Congress on related matters.
• The Intercept looks like it contributed to burning a source. Which potential leaker is going to them in the future? If potential leakers are made to think twice, another win for the IC.
• The FBI made an arrest right away, nearly simultaneous to the publication, with the formal charges coming barely an hour after The Intercept published. The bust is sure thing according to the very publicly released information. No Ed Snowden hiding out in Russia this time. IC looks good here.
• More evidence is now in the public domain that the Russians are after our election process. Seems as if the IC has been right all along.
What Happened is… Curious and Curiouser…
Now let’s look at what we know so far about how this happened.
A 25-year-old improbably-named Reality Winner leaves behind a trail long and wide on social media of anti-Trump stuff, including proclaiming herself a member of The Resistance. Never mind, she takes her Top Secret clearance with her out of the Air Force (she had been stationed with the military’s 94th Intelligence Squadron out of Fort Meade, Maryland, co-located with the NSA’s headquarters) and scores a job with an NSA contractor. Despite the lessons of too-much-access the Snowden episode should have taught the NSA, Winner apparently enjoys all sorts of classified documents – her Air Force expertise was in Afghan matters, so it is unclear why she would have access to info on Russia hacking of U.S. domestic companies.
Within only about 90 days of starting her new job, she prints out the one (and only one apparently, why not more?) document in question and mails it to The Intercept. She also uses her work computer inside an NSA facility to write to the Intercept twice about this same time.
Winner has a clearance. She was trained as a Dari, Pashto, and Farsi linguist by the Air Force. She knows how classified stuff works. She has been told repeatedly, as all persons with a clearance are, that her computer, email, printing, and phone are monitored. She mailed the document from Augusta, Georgia, the city where she lives and where the NSA facility is located. She practiced no tradecraft, did nothing to hide her actions and many things to call attention to them. It is very, very unclear why she took the actions she did under those circumstances.
The Intercept meanwhile drops by their friendly neighborhood NSA contact and shows them the document. NSA very publicly confirms the veracity of the document (unusual in itself, officially the Snowden and Manning documents remain unconfirmed) and then makes sure the open-courtdocument filed is not sealed and includes the information on how the spooks know the leaked doc was printed inside the NSA facility. Winner went on to make a full confession to the FBI. The upshot? This document is not a plant. The NSA wants you to very much know it is real. The Russians certainly are messing with our election.
But funny thing. While the leaked NSA document seems to be a big deal, at least to the general public, it sort of isn’t. It shows one piece of analysis suggesting but not confirming the GRU, Russian military intelligence, tried to steal some credentials and gain access to a private company. No US sources and methods, or raw technical intel, are revealed, the crown jewel stuff. There is no evidence the hack accomplished anything at all, never mind anything nefarious. The hack took place months ago and ran its course, meaning the Russian operation was already dead. The Russians were running a run-of-the-mill spearfishing attack, potentially effective, but nothing especially sophisticated. You get similar stuff all the time trying to harvest your credit card information. The leaked document looks like a big deal but isn’t.
Another issue. The Intercept has a lot of very smart people working for it, people with real-world intelligence and tradecraft experience. People who know about microdot encoding on printed documents, one of the tells here, and people who know they don’t show their whole hand when asking the NSA for a comment. The Intercept journalist volunteered to an NSA contracting company that the envelope received was postmarked to Augusta, where Winner lived and worked. Like Reality Winner and her own security training, it is very, very unclear why the Intercept took the actions it did under those circumstances.
So For Now…
So, look, what we know about this story may represent .01% of the whole picture, and that tiny sliver of visible information is only what the government has chosen to reveal. And sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence. Sometimes smart people make dumb mistakes.
But that’s not the way you place your bets, especially when dealing with the IC who are good at these kinds of games. At this very early stage I’m going to say there are too many coincidences and too many mistakes to simple shrug it all off. Too many of the benefits in this have accrued on the side of the IC than is typical when a real whistleblower shares classified documents with a journalist.
If it frightens you that I invoke the question of the Deep State using journalists to smear the President, just forget I said anything. But if we’re willing to believe the Russians somehow successfully manipulated our entire society to elect their favored candidate, then we can at least ask a few questions.
Otherwise, if anyone hears Winner’s lawyer use the word “patsy,” let me know, OK?
BONUS: Matt Cole, one of The Intercept journalists credited to this story, was also involved in the outing of source CIA officer John Kiriakou in connection with CIA torture claims. Small world!
Reality Winner leaked … terrible puns into late-night monologues
June 7, 2017 at 10:01 AM
Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor charged by the U.S. Department of Justice for sending classified material to a news organization, poses in a picture posted to her Instagram account. (Reality Winner/Social Media via Reuters)
The Internet and comedians have a new fascination. And her name is Reality Winner.
The 25-year-old woman is accused of leaking classified information to a news organization. She was arrested Saturday, shortly after the Intercept posted a redacted version of a U.S. intelligence document describing Russian government efforts to hack employees working at state voting agencies.
But aside from the seriousness of the charges against the National Security Agency contractor, the attention seems to also focus on her name.
Late-night show hosts have all dished out their own puns about President Trump’s administration and Reality.
On Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show” on Tuesday:
The leaker’s name — and this is true — Reality Winner. So it’s official. The Trump administration is at war with Reality. … Reality Winner had top-secret security clearance and worked for a private intelligence contractor called the Pluribus International Corporation. So, a young female spy named Reality Winner stole intelligence from the Pluribus Corporation. That sounds like a James Bond movie, which, of course, makes Donald Trump — Small Finger! Wa, wa, wa!
Trevor Noah on the “Daily Show”:
… Trump has to be one of the luckiest people around because this new leak shows that the Russian military actually tried to gain access into the Florida voter system. But we can’t concentrate on those facts. Because Reality Winner! White people, you can no longer make fun of black people’s names. It’s done. Because black people gave you a pass on Reince and Wolf, but now you’re just pulling nouns out of the dictionary.
“Late Night with Seth Meyers”:
Reality Winner leaked information about a reality denier who tried to influence the election to support a reality host who is detached from reality. So now the winner is the loser, and this loser who helped this loser win is the winner, and that’s our reality.
And Jimmy Fallon on the “Tonight Show”:
The NSA contractor who leaked the document is a woman named Reality Winner. When he was asked if he had any contact with the leaker, Trump said, ‘No, I’m out of touch with Reality.’ “
On social media, Winner was both condemned and praised. Many, though, jumped on Twitter with word plays, book and movie ideas, and GIFs.
DOJ: Federal Government Contractor in Georgia Charged With Removing & Mailing Classified Materials to a News Outlet
Her name is “REALITY WINNER”? If so, hard call for Trump: Pardon because he loves Winners, or deny because he can’t handle Reality.
The moment you realize that Trump’s ultimate downfall might be pinned to someone named Reality Winner.
If Reality Winner married Anthony Weiner, that would be awesome
But seriously, as conservative columnist and radio host Ben Shapiro said, “How much weirder can things get?”
How much weirder can things get before we all wake up next to Suzanne Pleshette?
Another Dose of Reality Winner: Deep State Leak Saga Grows Even Stranger
IAN MASON 9 Jun 2017
Reality Leigh Winner, whose arrest for leaking NSA documents to left-wing website The Intercept shocked the country this week, was denied bail at a hearing in federal court Thursday.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported from the hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Epps in Augusta Georgia that Ms. Winner has been denied bail and will remain in custody as she awaits trial.
Federal prosecutors are reportedly considering additional charges based on information now coming to light in the investigation. Monday’s original complaint charged Winner with “gathering, transmitting or losing defense information.” Now the Journal-Constitution reports authorities have uncovered more incriminating evidence not noted in the affidavit supporting the first charge.
A reference in a jailhouse phone call to her parents made reference to plural “documents” suggesting to authorities Winner may be involved in other leaks of classified information. A U.S. Air Force veteran, Winner held a “Top Secret” security clearance necessary for her work as a contractor at an unnamed American intelligence community facility in Georgia. Prosecutors allege she told her mother she “screwed up” and also that she smuggled out a flash drive she attached to a top secret computer while serving in the Air Force as a “test run.”
A search of one the notebooks the FBI seized from Winner’s home is alleged to have turned up disturbing threats against the President of United States, continuing a long pattern of anti-Trump hysteria evident on her as-of-yet undeleted social media presence. Federal prosecutors told the Journal-Constitution that Winner had scrawled her wish to “burn the White House down” in the notebook. Statements like this have become common place on the #resistance left to which Ms. Winner pledged her allegiance on several occasions. Pop music legend Madonna, for example, expressed similar sentiments in front of “Women’s March” rally immediately following President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
These revelations only add to the increasingly difficult to explain behavior of the 25-year old Reality Winner, who once appeared to advocate the idea that “being white is terrorism.” On social media, she frequently posted inflammatory criticism of both President Trump and other administration officials like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and appeared to whole-heartedly buy into the wildest of Russia-related conspiracy theories.
The document she allegedly leaked to The Intercept concerned the NSA’s internal analysis of Russian hackers’ attempts to gain access to American voting computer systems and election authorities. The FBI managed to zero in on her as the leaker when The Intercept contacted the unnamed U.S. intelligence agency from which the report was stolen asking for comment.
Not everyone, however, is concerned with the threat posed by alleged leakers like Ms. Winner. As of Friday morning a GoFundMe page in support of her is still active and has raised over $20,000 from sympathetic members of the public, including anti-Trump celebrity Rosie O’Donnell who called her a “brave young patriot.”
brave young patriot –
The initial charges against Reality Winner carry up to 10 years in federal prison. It remains to be seen if additional charges will be added based on this new information. For the moment, Winner is incarcerated at Lincoln County Jail near Augusta, Georgia, where she awaits trial in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.
First arrest over Trump leaks: Intelligence contractor, 25, who served in the US Air Force is charged under espionage laws for ‘handing secret NSA report on Russian election hacking to news website’
By Geoff Earle, Deputy U.s. Political Editor For Dailymail.com and Regina F. Graham For Dailymail.com
18:21 EDT 05 Jun 2017, updated 14:26 EDT 06 Jun 2017
• The Intercept on Monday published a top secret NSA document it got from an anonymous source
• The document appeared to show Russian military intelligence conducted a spear phishing cyber attack on an election software company
• The hackers then used the information to launch another attack to hit local governments with voter-registration linked attacks
• The feds filed a criminal complaint Monday against Georgia federal contractor, Reality Leigh Winner, 25, charging her with removing classified material from a government facility
• She was charged with transmitting it to online news outlet The Intercept
• The date attached to the top secret information referenced in the story and in the charging documents is the same
• Bernie Sanders-supporting Reality Leigh Winner served as a linguist in the US Air Force since 2013 before working as an NSA contractor
• If convicted, Winner could spend up to 10 years in a federal penitentiary
The federal government has leveled the first charges against an individual in connection with leaks related to the Russian election hacking.
The government has charged Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a Georgia intelligence contractor, with removing classified material from a government facility.
‘Winner is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation assigned to a U.S. government agency facility in Georgia,’ according to a government criminal complaint.
‘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.’
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<img id=”i-bbb635faac3d0fd5″ class=”img-share” src=”https://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2017/06/06/00/4123699700000578-4575094-image-m-2_1496706073323.jpg” width=”634″ height=”742″ alt=”Arrested: The government has charged Reality Leigh Winner (pictured), 25, a Georgia intelligence contractor, with passing secret documents to the media”/>
Arrested: The government has charged Reality Leigh Winner (pictured), 25, a Georgia intelligence contractor, with passing secret documents to the media
Bernie Sanders-supporting Reality served as a linguist in the US Air Force since 2013 and spoke Pashto, Farsi and Dari. Pictured here in uniform with her mother Billie
She is the first person to have charges leveled against her in connection with leaks related to Russian election hacking
President Trump (above on Monday) has repeatedly railed against leaks, and administration members have called on congressional committees to focus on alleged Russian interference
US contractor Reality Winner charged with leaking top-secret memo
‘Approximately a few days later, Winner unlawfully transmitted by mail the intelligence reporting to an online news outlet,’ according to the release.
‘FBI has arrested and charged the woman they say leaked a Top Secret document to The Intercept,’ NBC News reported, citing a federal official.
Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, said that she was shocked to learn about her daughter’s arrest and that the family is not even sure why she’s been arrested.
‘I don’t know what they’re alleging,’ she told told The Daily Beast. ‘I don’t know who she might have sent it to. [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.’
She shared that her daughter, who had been a linguist for the U.S. Air Force and can speak middle eastern languages Farsi, Dari and Pashto, called on Sunday to ask to have her pets relocated.
<img id=”i-c9457f1eb4bff6ca” class=”img-share” src=”https://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2017/06/05/23/4123656900000578-4575094-image-a-9_1496703085478.jpg” width=”634″ height=”355″ alt=”Winner allegedly copied a classified NSA report (pictured) suggesting that Russian hackers attacked a US voting software supplier before the 2016 presidential election”/>
Winner allegedly copied a classified NSA report (pictured) suggesting that Russian hackers attacked a US voting software supplier before the 2016 presidential election
“According to a government criminal complaint, ‘Winner (above) is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation assigned to a U.S. government agency facility in Georgia'”/>
According to a government criminal complaint, ‘Winner (above) is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation assigned to a U.S. government agency facility in Georgia’
“Reality Leigh Winner, a decorated former US Air Force linguist who held Top Secret government clearance, is accused of leaking NSA intelligence “/>
Reality Leigh Winner, a decorated former US Air Force linguist who held Top Secret government clearance, is accused of leaking NSA intelligence
Winner-Davis said that her daughter never discussed her work, and that her family didn’t know much information about her job as a government contractor.
Winner was an employee at Pluribus International Corporation based out of Alexandria, Virginia. She was then posted to a government agency in Georgia. She worked at the facility since February 13, and held Top Secret security clearance.
Pluribus is an analytical and engineering service that provides its services to federal, defense, security and the intelligence community on a contractual basis. The company has 22 locations across the world, including three in the Republic of Korea.
Her mother revealed that she is unsure if her daughter will be able to seek bond and that she has a hearing on Thursday.
Winner-Davis also mentioned how her daughter was quite outspoken about her beliefs.
‘She’s very passionate. Very passionate about her views and things like that, but she’s never to my knowledge been active in politics or any of that,’ Winner-Davis stated.
However, a Twitter account reportedly used by Winner under the handle ‘Sara Winners’ has several tweets that express her frustration with the Trump administration and retweeted a joke about government leaks.
“Winner was outspoken about her political beliefs. She disliked Trump and backed Bernie Sanders for the Presidency”/>
Winner was outspoken about her political beliefs. She disliked Trump and backed Bernie Sanders for the Presidency
“Winner’s political persuasions were clear and for all to see on her open Facebook page and Twitter account”/>
Winner’s political persuasions were clear and for all to see on her open Facebook page and Twitter account
Winner has also frequently tweeted at the president in recent months.
In response to a Trump tweet about immigrants coming from seven Muslim-majority countries being ‘SO DANGEROUS’, Winner asked: ‘have you ever even met an Iranian?’
After the U.S. Department of Agriculture began blacking out public information, Winner tweeted ‘#RESISTANCE’.
The 25-year-old who was a Sen. Bernie Sanders supporter also took to Twitter after Trump won the election in November and shared how she was upset.
On election night, she tweeted, “Well. People suck.”
‘I listened to you daily, and your podcast kept me sane,’ Winner wrote at the FiveThirtyEight podcast on November 9. ‘What the heck #betrayed #disillusioned.’
” When she wasn’t posting about politics, Winner’s social media paints her as something of a loner whose main focus was on bodybuilding”/>
When she wasn’t posting about politics, Winner’s social media paints her as something of a loner whose main focus was on bodybuilding
“The decorated former US Air Force linguist held Top Secret government clearance “/>
The decorated former US Air Force linguist held Top Secret government clearance
She also tweeted Sanders’ statement calling the president racist and xenophobic immediately after.
The charges against Winner coincided with a report by The Intercept that a top secret NSA document revealed efforts by Russian military intelligence to conduct a spear phishing cyber attack on a company and on local voter registration.
‘Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors… executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions,’ according to the document the Intercept published.
‘The actors likely used data obtained from that operation to… launch a voter registration-themed spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations.’