Reality Leigh Winner (born December 4, 1991) is a former American intelligence specialist. In 2017, she was charged with “removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.” The material referred to originated with the National Security Agency (NSA). Reality Winner, employee of military contractor Pluribus International Corporation, was arrested by FBI agents at her home in Augusta, Georgia, on June 3rd, two days before The Intercept published an exposé revealing Russian military intelligence conducted a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software company (probably to prevent further cheating by the deep state that would have assured Hillary the elected President) just days before the U.S. presidential election last November. The exposé was based on a classified NSA report from May 5th, 2017, that shows that the agency is convinced the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, was responsible for interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
Reality is the first ‘whistleblower’ to be accused of violating the Espionage Act under the Trump administration. She’s been denied bail and has been jailed since June. On Tuesday, she appeared in court in Augusta, Georgia, in orange jumpsuit and shackles, where her lawyers asked the judge to exclude her statements to the FBI agents on the day she was arrested, arguing she was denied her Miranda rights.
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-court document 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?
(Breitbart) One of the shocking revelations of the developing Reality Winner leaks scandal is that the eccentrically-named 25-year-old was able to secure a “Top Secret” clearance as part of her contracting job. Winner, a government contractor lately with Pluribus International, stands accused of leaking a classified National Security Agency report on Russian hackers during the 2016 elections to left-wing news site The Intercept.
As the government has grown ever more dependent on the security clearance system to maintain confidentiality, the number of Americans holding clearances has skyrocketed. A 2013 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence found 4.9 million security clearances, 1.4 million of them Top Secret.
The massive list of positions both with the government and, like in Reality Winner’s case, with a private government contractor, that require clearances has led to a back log at the Office of Personnel Management that can create a major obstacle to government employment.
In the pressure to get people approved for the clearances needed, several embarrassing lapses in vetting have come to light. For example, Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis held a clearance, despite clear indications of psychological problems and a years-long pattern of violent behavior.
In Ms. Winner’s case, being the arch-millennial her extensive social media presence suggests she is, she posted many of her views and impulses for the world to see. Several red flags stick out in hindsight as to her possible unsuitability for access to the nation’s sensitive intelligence and defense information.
#1 “Being White is Terrorism”
@kanyewest you should make a shirt that says, “being white is terrorism”
— Sara Winners (@Reezlie) February 26, 2017
On a Twitter account that appears to belong to the same Reality Winner who was arrested Saturday, “Sara Winners” displays casual anti-white attitudes, telling rapper Kanye West that he should make a shirt emblazoned with “being white is terrorism.” She also expressed her support for anti-law enforcement group Black Lives Matter in the most explicit of racial language, replete with campus social justice terminology:
— Sara Winners (@Reezlie) January 15, 2017
Well. People suck. #ElectionNight
— Sara Winners (@Reezlie) November 9, 2016
Winner made no attempt to hide her utter contempt for President Donald Trump and his followers: Retweeting common #Resist tropes like comments on the President’s hands and retweeting, for example, half a dozen examples of the following image:
#3 “Defeat ISIS With Starbucks”
On election night, Winner appeared to contract Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS). Her comments veered further into the bizarre, the upset election result apparently greatly upsetting her:
— Sara Winners (@Reezlie) November 9, 2016
#4 “Donald Trump Burns Crosses”
Winner’s racially-charged disparagement of Trump supporters also intensified after the President’s shock victory in November, making frequent reference to the Ku Klux Klan:
Why burn a flag? @realDonaldTrump thinks crosses burn much better
— Sara Winners (@Reezlie) November 29, 2016
#5 “Apathy is Class Warfare”
Among her myriad inane Facebook postings, Winning included several rambling text documents full of environmentalist, social justice, and marxist buzzwords. The documents, apparently letters to a college faculty and paper she wrote, include headings like “apathy is class warfare” and link climate change to world events like the Syrian Civil War.
#6 “Minorities are The Victims of Pollution”
Rivaling a recent astounding series of tweets by the American Civil Liberties Union claiming Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement is an “assault on communities of color,” Winner turns to race again in an attempt to link virtually all social ills to environmental issues: