US contractor charged with leaking classified report

Arrest comes same day The Intercept published NSA docs about Russia election hacking

The U.S. Department of Justice seal, file. (CBS News)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — A government contractor has been charged in federal court with leaking a classified report containing top-secret information to a news organization.

Reality Leigh Winner, 25, of Augusta, Georgia, was charged in U.S. District Court with copying classified documents and mailing them to a reporter with an unnamed news organization. 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.

Court records say the documents were produced on or about May 5 and contained “Top Secret level” information.

Also on Monday, the website The Intercept reported it obtained a top-secret National Security Agency report dated May 5 saying Russian hackers attacked at least one U.S. voting software supplier days before last year’s presidential election.

The document said Russian military intelligence “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 information that became available in April 2017.”

The hackers are believed to have then used data from that operation to create a new email account to launch a spear-phishing campaign targeting U.S. local government organizations, the document said. “Lastly, the actors send test emails to two non-existent accounts ostensibly associated with absentee balloting, presumably with the purpose of creating those accounts to mimic legitimate services.”

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 in a phone interview Monday. “She is a very good person. All this craziness has happened all of a sudden.”

In affidavits filed with the court, Garrick of the FBI 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 6 employees had made physical copies. Winner was one of them. Garrick 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, Nichols said, “If there is a confession, the government has not shown it to me.”