A US federal agency contractor has been arrested for allegedly leaking a classified report of the National Security Agency showing Russia’s targeting of a voting software firm last year, raising fresh concerns over Moscow’s meddling in the presidential polls. Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor from Augusta in Georgia, was arrested by the FBI soon after The Intercept published a classified report of the NSA.
“Exceptional law enforcement efforts allowed us quickly to identify and arrest the defendant,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J Rosenstein.
“Releasing classified material without authorisation threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government. People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation,” Rosenstein said.
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According to the criminal complaint, Winner is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation assigned to a US government agency facility in Georgia.
The classified report of the NSA has alleged that the Russian military intelligence launched a 2016 cyberattack on a voting software company.
Winner has been employed at the facility since on or about February 13, and has held a Top Secret clearance during that time.
“On 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,” it said.
According to the complaint, Winner agreed to talk with agents during the execution of the warrant.
During the conversation, Winner admitted intentionally identifying and printing the classified intelligence reporting at issue despite not having a “need to know,” and with knowledge that the intelligence reporting was classified.
Winner further admitted removing the classified intelligence reporting from her office space, retaining it, and mailing it from Augusta to the news outlet, which she knew was not authorised to receive or possess the documents, the complaint said.
According to the document published by The Intercept, the Russian Military Intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November’s presidential election.
The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed US government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light, it said.
“While the document provides a rare window into the NSA’s understanding of the mechanics of Russian hacking, it does not show the underlying “raw” intelligence on which the analysis is based. A US intelligence officer who declined to be identified cautioned against drawing too big a conclusion from the document because a single analysis is not necessarily definitive,” The Intercept said.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said that Winner must be supported.
“Alleged NSA whistleblower Reality Leigh Winner must be supported,” he tweeted yesterday alongside a picture of Winner.
“She is a young woman accused of courage in trying to help us know,” Assange said.
“It doesn’t matter why she did it or the quality [of] the report,” Assange added in a separate tweet.
“Acts of non-elite sources communicating knowledge should be strongly encouraged,” he said.
According to The Intercept, the report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into US 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 cyberattacks described in the document,” it said.