A U.S. government contractor with top security clearance, Reality Leigh Winner, appeared in federal district court Monday for allegedly leaking top-secret material from a government facility to a news outlet.
Winner, a 25-year-old National Security Agency contractor, was arrested Saturday at her house in Augusta, Ga., and is being charged with “gathering, transmitting or losing defense information” for the leak, according to a Justice Department press release.
She allegedly sent a news outlet a top-secret report from May, according to a search warrant affidavit. While the Justice Department did not name the news outlet or identify the leaked document, the Intercept published a June 5 report about Russian intelligence efforts to hack voting software and more than 100 local election officials in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Winner was charged shortly after.
Winner’s attorney, Titus Thomas Nichols, did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News, and he declined to confirm to the Associated Press whether Winner is accused of leaking the information to the Intercept. The online news outlet stated it does not know the identity of its source but did not dispute NBC News’ report that Winner allegedly sent one of the Intercept’s reporters the document.
The NSA contractor told FBI agents that she knew the document contained classified intelligence and that she printed the report, according to the affidavit. Winner also admitted that she removed the document from the U.S. government facility and sent it to a news outlet from Augusta, Ga., with the knowledge that the news outlet was not authorized to possess or receive the document, the affidavit says.
Winner has held a top-secret clearance as a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation at a government facility in Georgia since mid-February, when she began working there, according to the Justice Department.
The Texas native served in the Air Force in Columbia, Md., as a linguist and speaks Pashto, Farsi and Dari, her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, told CNN. Her mother described her as an animal lover and athlete, and she told the Daily Beast that in a Sunday call Winner asked her mother to help relocate her pets. (CNN identified her mother simply as “Billie Winner.”)
Winner-Davis told the Daily Beast that her daughter never spoke about her work and that she did not know the specifics of her daughter’s job.
Despite Winner’s silence about her work as a contractor, she is “very passionate” about her beliefs but has not been politically active, Winner-Davis said.
“She’s never, ever given me any kind of indication that she was in favor of [leaks] at all,” Winner-Davis said.
But Winner’s reported Twitter account has railed against President Trump, advocated for action against climate change and expressed her support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Winner-Davis told the Daily Beast that the allegations against Winner were vague and that the family did not know to what or whom the classified information related.
Winner has no criminal history, her lawyer told the Associated Press. Winner has a hearing Thursday to determine whether she can seek bond, Winner-Davis said.
The leaked document is classified as top secret, meaning “its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security,” the affidavit says.
The unnamed news outlet had contacted the government agency regarding the document and provided a copy to the agency, the affidavit says. After the agency discovered that the document had been printed, it discovered that Winner was one of six individuals who had printed the report, and that of the six she was the only individual who had contacted the news outlet, authorities said.
If convicted, Winner faces up to 10 years in prison for the leak.
WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange expressed his support of Winner in a tweet Monday, writing, “She is a young women accused of courage in trying to help us know.”
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