The story of a leaked NSA report detailing Russia’s alleged attempts to infiltrate US voting infrastructure ahead of the 2016 presidential election just took a sharply unexpected turn.
Reality Leigh Winner, 25, has been arrested and is in custody, with officials saying they have identified her as the source of the documents leaked to The Intercept.
The Intercept broke the story of the National Security Agency report on June 5, noting that it “indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood.”
This was based on leaked documents provided to the site, which, allegedly before going public with the story, showed them to NSA officials to confirm their authenticity.
This, reportedly, is where the publication known for its security-conscious reporters may have messed up.
The government affidavit states that The Intercept showed them “folded and/or creased” documents, “suggesting they had been printed and hand-carried out of a secured space.” This clue was enough for officials to “determine who accessed the intelligence reporting since its publication, and, after seeing that “six individuals printed this reporting,” narrow the list of suspects down.
NBC News: Senior federal official says that Reality Leigh Winner, age 25, has been arrested & charged with leaking document to The Intercept
— Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) June 5, 2017
Importantly, if we are to take the government at its word, investigators could have conceivably identified the leaker regardless of the folded nature of the docs. That’s because the alleged source had “e-mail contact” with The Intercept—possibly from her work computer. She also, allegedly, printed the material out at work.
Feds go “yeup.” Who printed? 6 people…
Who emailed the Intercept… 1.
Lets talk to her.
— Nicholas Weaver (@ncweaver) June 5, 2017
Either way, the arrest is a blow for the national security-focused Intercept. The site takes pains to detail secure ways for sources to share info with it in a page titled “The Intercept Welcomes Whistleblowers.”
“So whether you are in government or the private sector, if you become aware of behavior that you believe is unethical, illegal, or damaging to the public interest, consider sharing your information securely with us,” the webpage explains. “We’ve taken steps to make sure that people can leak to us as safely as possible.”
Under the section “What not to do if you want to remain anonymous,” the top piece of advice is “Don’t contact us from work.”
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