The Justice Department announced Monday it had charged a government contractor with leaking a classified report containing "Top Secret level" information to an online news organisation. The report the contractor allegedly leaked is dated May 5. A leaked government report in an article published by The Intercept on Russia's attempt to hack the 2016 presidential election has the same date.
Reality Leigh Winner, a 25-year-old from Augusta, GA, was charged in US District Court with copying classified documents and mailing them to a reporter with an unnamed news organisation. Prosecutors did not say which federal agency Winner worked for, but FBI agent Justin Garrick said in an affidavit filed with the court that she had previously served in the Air Force and held a top-secret security clearance.
Winner's attorney, Titus Thomas Nichols, declined to confirm whether she is accused of leaking the NSA report received by The Intercept. He also declined to name the federal agency for which Winner worked.
"My client has no (criminal) history, so it's not as if she has a pattern of having done anything like this before," Nichols said. "She is a very good person. All this craziness has happened all of a sudden."
In affidavits filed with the court, Garrick said the government was notified of the leaked report by the news outlet that received it. He said the agency that housed the report determined only six employees had made physical copies. Winner was one of them. He said investigators found Winner had exchanged email with the news outlet using her work computer.
Garrick's affidavit said he interviewed Winner at her home Saturday and she "admitted intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue" and mailing it to the news outlet.
Asked if Winner had confessed, her lawyer said, "If there is a confession, the government has not shown it to me."
On Monday, The Intercept reported Russian hackers attacked at least one US voting software supplier days before last year's presidential election. The leaked government intelligence report suggests election-related hacking penetrated further into US voting systems than previously known.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin denied the allegations Tuesday saying that the Kremlin did not see "any evidence to prove this information is true."
The classified National Security Agency report does not say whether the hacking had any effect on election results. But it says Russian military intelligence attacked a US voting software company and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials at the end of October or beginning of November.
The information in the leaked document seems to go further than the US intelligence agencies' January assessment of the hacking that occurred.
"Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple US state or local electoral boards," the assessment earlier this year said. The Department of Homeland Security "assesses that the types of systems Russian actors targeted or compromised were not involved in vote tallying."
The Intercept contacted NSA and the national intelligence director's office about the document and both agencies asked that it not be published. US intelligence officials then asked The Intercept to redact certain sections. The Intercept said some material was withheld at US intelligence agencies' request because it wasn't "clearly in the public interest."
The Associated Press could not confirm the authenticity of the May 5 NSA document, which The Intercept said it obtained anonymously. US intelligence agencies declined to comment.
If convicted for leaking classified information, Winner could face up to 10 years in prison.