What Was 'The Intercept's Leaked Document About? Reality Winner Is Facing Charges
On Monday, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it was charging NSA contractor Reality Winner after she allegedly leaked classified material to news website The Intercept. Following this announcement, many are likely wondering what the document that Winner allegedly leaked to The Intercept contained and whether or not the information in these documents has been confirmed as accurate. Winner has not publicly responded to the claim.
Winner, 25, worked for a defense contractor called Pluribus International Corporation and was based in Georgia; she held top-secret security clearance. CNN reported that Winner was charged with "removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet." While the criminal complaint against Winner does not specify the content of the documents or the agency from which the material was taken, various news outlets are reporting that the material consisted of a classified NSA document investigating Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. An article revealing the contents of this document was published in The Intercept on June 5 — the same day the DOJ announced its charges against Winner.
The New York Times noted that The Intercept reported that the classified material submitted for its article was provided anonymously and that, resultantly, the publication cannot confirm whether Winner is the source. If she is indeed the source, Winner would have provided The Intercept with documentation that specifically outlines concerted attempts by the Russian government to engage in cyberattacks on U.S. election software and election officials.
More specifically, the NSA document published by The Intercept reveals that Russian military intelligence engaged in a cyberattack on a company that supplies software for voting machines in the U.S. The Russians also supposedly sent what are known as "spear-phishing" emails to dozens of local election officials across the United States just days before the 2016 presidential election.
The Intercept noted that the classified document allegedly reveals that hackers from Russian military intelligence sent a phishing email to several employees of an American election software manufacturing company with the intention of stealing the employees' login credentials. The report indicated that at least one of these attempts was successful.
The document then noted that, following this acquisition of credentials, hackers then set up a fake email account for the election software company and allegedly used it to send "spear-phishing" emails to over 100 local government officials across the country who were likely involved in managing voter registration in their localities. This email allegedly contained a "trojanized" attachment, the document said, that, if opened, would install malware that would allow hackers unfettered access to the electronic files of the user who opened the document. The NSA file noted that it was uncertain as to whether this "spear-phishing" attack succeeded and, if it did, with what type of information it provided the Russians.
It is important to note that, according to the Intercept, the leaked document "does not draw conclusions about whether the interference had any effect on the election's outcome and concedes that much remains unknown about the extent of the hackers' accomplishments." However, it does "raise the possibility that Russian hacking may have breached at least some elements of the [U.S.] voting system." This is alarming in itself and also particularly in light of the fact that President Putin recently explicitly denied that the Russian government engaged in any type of American election interference at a state level.
If the contents of the classified document are indeed true, they certainly have implications for the veracity of Putin's statements, to say the very least. The Intercept did report that it independently authenticated the classified document. CNN also reported that it received confirmation from a U.S. official that the document is a genuine, classified NSA document.
Bustle has also reached out to the Department of Justice's Office of Public Affairs to inquire whether Winner's arrest confirms that she was indeed The Intercept's source and that the content contained in the classified document is accurate but has not yet received a response.