Former National Security Agency contractor Reality L. Winner pleaded guilty Tuesday to sending a media outlet a classified document pertaining to Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
A former Air Force linguist, Winner is the first person to be prosecuted by the Trump administration for leaking sensitive government information. Her plea agreement in federal court in Augusta, Georgia, calls for a 63-month prison term, though she will be sentenced at a later date, reported The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Winner was arrested in June 2017 after she stole classified materials from her former employer, Pluribus International, a defense contractor that works for the NSA at its offices in Augusta. After being arrested by the FBI, she admitted to printing and mailing the classified documents to investigative news website The Intercept, which went on to publish a story based on the document.
The FBI announced that it had arrested Winner just hours after The Intercept published its story. In an affidavit, federal investigators said they were tipped to a leak of secret documents when an Intercept reporter seeking to authenticate the documents contacted the NSA, which then reached out to the FBI about the possible security breach.
A scan of the document given by the reporter to the NSA showed a visible crease mark, leading investigators to believe that it had been printed out. Investigators later determined that six people had printed copies of the file, but only Winner had used a work computer to send emails to The Intercept.
The classified document in question was an NSA report detailing how the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, had carried out cyberattacks on more than 100 election officials and a company that sells voter registration software.
Winner, who held a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance, had a limited presence on social media, but several posts reveal support for liberal causes and antipathy to President Donald Trump’s administration. She had publicly supported socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and the Women’s March, and she called Trump “a piece of shit” for his opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests. (RELATED: NSA Leaker Told FBI That She Was Triggered By Fox News Being On At Her Workplace)
The Trump Justice Department is pursuing at least two other cases related to the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive government information. James Wolfe, a former Senate Select Committee on Intelligence staffer, has been charged with lying to the FBI about his contacts with reporters, including one with whom he was having a romantic relationship. He was not charged with leaking classified information, however.
The other case involves Joshua Schulte, a former CIA software engineer, who is accused of sending a stolen archive of documents about the agency’s hacking tools to WikiLeaks. He is also facing separate child pornography charges.
In Winner’s case, a five-year prison term would be a relatively harsh sentence for a single count of mishandling classified information in violation of the Espionage Act. A federal judge must approve the sentence after reviewing the prosecution’s sentencing report.
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