A former U.S. Air Force linguist charged with passing a top-secret report about Russian hacking to a news organization was denied bail by a magistrate judge who said the woman had taken other classified information that could still be passed to enemies of the U.S.
Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a government contract worker with top-secret security clearance, pleaded not guilty Thursday to an espionage charge in federal court in Augusta, Georgia, and was ordered to remain in custody out of concern she poses a risk to national security.
A federal prosecutor said in court that authorities had uncovered a series of “new and downright frightening” other acts by Winner, including inserting a thumb drive into her Air Force computer and taking classified information while she was still in the military.
“When you take a thumb drive in a top-secret computer as she did, we don’t know what happened to it,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Epps said at the hearing. “That falls into the landscape of danger to the community but it is also a danger to the nation.”
Winner, who has worked for government contractor Pluribus International Corp. since February, was arrested on Saturday. The charges against her were announced by the U.S. Justice Department on Monday shortly after the online news outlet The Intercept published what it said was a National Security Agency report detailing Russian cyber attacks in the days before the 2016 election.
In denying Winner’s request to be released while awaiting trial, Epps also cited her journal which federal agents found during a search of her Augusta home. She allegedly expressed support in her writings for Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden as well as proclaiming she wanted to burn down the White House.
“She seems to have a fascination with the Middle East and Islamic terrorism,” Epps said. He quoted her as having written: “It’s a Christlike vision to have a fundamentalist Islamic state.”
Winner is accused of printing out classified data at her job on May 9 and mailing it to an online news outlet days later. While prosecutors won’t say which government intelligence agency she was working for in Augusta, her mother said in court it was the National Security Agency.
The U.S. agency notified the FBI on June 1 that it had been contacted by the news outlet on May 30 regarding an upcoming story. According to the criminal complaint, the news outlet told the agency “it was in possession of what it believed to be a classified document authored by the U.S Government Agency” and later provided a copy of the document for verification.
Federal agents reviewed the documents provided by the news outlet and determined that it appeared to be folded or creased, suggesting it had been printed out and carried out by hand out of a secure space, according to an FBI affidavit.
On the day she was arrested, Winner admitted to FBI agents that she leaked the information to the news outlet, knowing “the contents of the reporting could be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign nation,” according to prosecutors.
Winner’s arrest came two days before The Intercept published a report saying the NSA has determined Russian military intelligence executed a cyber-attack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and also sent emails containing malware to more than 100 local election officials days before the November election.
Pluribus is owned by Nathan McCarry, who’s also the chief executive officer, according to his LinkedIn page. Neither McCarry nor a Pluribus representative responded to phone and email messages seeking comment.
On social media, Winner has included photos of herself that are dedicated to CrossFit, yoga and her pets. On a separate account for a “Sara Winners” identified as hers, she has sharply criticized Trump, including calling him a “soulless ginger orangutan.”
Additional details about the case emerged in FBI affidavits filed this week. The report that Winner leaked was dated May 5 and classified as “Top Secret.” Four days later, Winner conducted searches on the agency’s classified system and downloaded it, FBI agents said.
An internal audit by the intelligence agency determined Winner was one of six workers who’d accessed the report, according to the FBI, and showed only Winner’s computer had email contact with the news outlet using a personal email account on March 30 and March 31.
On June 3, FBI agents obtained a warrant to search Winner’s Augusta home and her car. The agents also obtained a warrant to seize and copy all of the data on her electronic equipment.
Winner also traveled to Belize in Central America on May 27 to May 29, according to court filings, although U.S. officials said they don’t know the purpose of her travel.
By: Patricia Hurtado
8 June 2017