Air Force Veteran Charged with Mishandling Top-Secret US Materials

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution |

Federal authorities have charged a 25-year-old federal contractor in Augusta, Georgia with taking top-secret material -- including national defense information -- from a government facility and mailing it to a news media outlet.

The FBI arrested Reality Leigh Winner on Saturday after searching her home. She appeared in federal court in Augusta Monday afternoon.

In announcing the charge against Winner, the U.S. Justice Department did not identify the classified material -- which was dated on or about May 5 -- or the news outlet. But The Intercept reported Monday that it had obtained a top-secret National Security Agency report, dated May 5, that says Russian military intelligence officials executed a cyberattack on a U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials days before last November's presidential election.

Winner is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation and is assigned to a U.S. government facility in Georgia, where she has held a top-secret clearance, according to the U.S. Justice Department. The government started investigating her after the news outlet contacted it on Tuesday about an upcoming story concerning the intelligence materials.

The news outlet provided federal officials a copy of the classified information. Federal investigators quickly identified six people who had printed the materials and found that Winner had email contact with the news agency.

While the Justice Department did not identify the material Winner allegedly mailed the news outlet, it did disclose it is classified at the "Top Secret level, indicating that its unauthorized disclosure could reasonably result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security, and is marked as such."

Winner's attorney, Titus Nichols, said she is a U.S. Air Force veteran with no criminal convictions. Winner's last station with the Air Force was at Fort Meade in Maryland, where the NSA is located. She was still in federal custody Monday, Nichols said, and a court hearing about her detention is set for Thursday. Nichols plans to argue for her release.

"We look forward to getting the evidence and reviewing it and working hard to resolve this matter so my client can put it behind her and so she can go back on with her life," he said. "She is a good person."

If convicted of the charge of "gathering, transmitting or losing defense information," Winner could face up to 10 years in prison, court records show.

"Exceptional law enforcement efforts allowed us quickly to identify and arrest the defendant," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a prepared statement. "Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation's security and undermines public faith in government. People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation."