Linda Schrenko, Charles Walker, Tim Shelnut… Reality Winner? Yep, the newest in the line of Augusta’s most politically-infamous people is a previously-obscure 25 year-old government contractor.
President Trump should be resting a little easier today, as the National Security Agency was able to track down, arrest, and arraign Reality Leigh Winner, who leaked a highly-classified document to The Intercept last month. In a piece that published Monday, The Intercept included a redacted NSA document detailing Russian hacking efforts in the days leading up to the 2016 election. Though the outlet said the document was provided to them anonymously, it clearly wasn’t that anonymous.
The NSA learned on May 30 that the report had been leaked when a reporter at The Intercept reached out to an NSA contractor at another firm for comment. The second contractor alerted the agency, prompting the investigation. Winner was questioned at her home on June 3, where she admitted to leaking the document. According to court records, officials state that she understood the severity of her actions.
According to The Augusta Chronicle, Winner had a top security clearance at Pluribus International Corporation in Augusta, where she began working in February after serving six years as a linguist in the Air Force — including an assignment at Fort Meade, the home of the NSA. Officials zeroed in on her because she was one of only six individuals who had printed out the leaked document. The NSA knew it had been printed because when The Intercept gave a copy of the file to the NSA for review, officials noted creasing that indicated the file was folded for mailing. Further, the news outlet handed over the envelope used to mail the document, which was postmarked from Augusta. The investigation also uncovered that Winner had been in contact with The Intercept via her personal email on a separate occasion. On her work computer. In case you’re wondering, that’s a pretty good example of how not to leak a document and get away with it — at many steps in the process.
Winner faces a detention hearing on Thursday in Augusta. Her court-appointed lawyer, Titus T. Nichols of Bell & Brigham, believes she will be kept in custody pending trial. If convicted, Winner faces up to 10 years in federal prison.
The lines you’d expect have been drawn politically. The Daily Caller and other conservative outlets have painted Winner as a far-left, anti-American activist. Julian Assange has painted her as a hero. If nothing else, Congress’ biggest show horse, Jason Chaffetz, had the opportunity to go on the record in a national outlet and talk about something other than Trump and Russia, calling for her expedient imprisonment, so he’s probably got conflicting emotions about her. Reality (haha) suggests she was a left-leaning woman who was avidly opposed to the current president but still was willing to engage Republicans like Senator David Perdue on issues that mattered to her. It’s early, and more details will come out later, but all indications seem to be that Winner understood the probable outcome she faces, so the question remains as to why she would risk her career, her reputation, and her freedom for the contents of this report?
Fwiw, the hacking efforts detailed in the report included a cyber attack on a US voting software supplier and spear-fishing emails to over 100 elections officials, carried out by Russian military intelligence between August and October of last year. Further, for the first time, it is now apparent that Russia’s team of hackers has been specifically targeting the voter registration process, particularly devices that maintain and verify voter rolls.