The U.S. Department of Justice has charged a federal contractor with sending classified material to a news organisation that sources identified to Reuters as The Intercept, marking one of the first concrete efforts by the Trump administration to crack down on leaks to the media.
Reality Winner, 25, was charged with removing classified material from a government facility located in Georgia. She was arrested on June 3, the Justice Department said.
The charges were announced less than an hour after The Intercept published a top-secret document from the U.S. National Security Agency.
The publication described Russian efforts to launch cyber-attacks on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and send “spear-phising” emails, or targeted emails that try to trick a recipient into clicking on a malicious link to steal data, to more than 100 local election officials days before the presidential election last November.
U.S. intelligence agencies including the NSA and CIA have fallen victim to several thefts of classified material in recent years, often at the hands of a federal contractor.
For example, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 disclosed secret documents to journalists, including the South China Morning Post while he was hiding in Hong Kong.
“Releasing classified material without authorisation 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,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.
While the charges do not name the publication, a U.S. official with knowledge of the case said Winner was charged with leaking the NSA report to The Intercept.
A second official confirmed The Intercept document was authentic and did not dispute that the charges against Winner were directly tied to it.
The Intercept’s reporting reveals new details behind the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian intelligence services were seeking to infiltrate state voter registration systems as part of a broader effort to interfere in the election, discredit Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and help then Republican candidate Donald Trump win the election.
The Intercept said that the NSA, Washington’s most important signals intelligence body, sought first to dissuade them from publishing it, and then requested redactions of sensitive information.
The report shows that, by trying to steal log-in credentials and using spear-fishing emails to plant malware, the hackers “obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple U.S. state or local electoral boards.”
“Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate actors … executed cyber espionage operations against a named U.S. company in August 2016, evidently to obtain information on elections-related software and hardware solutions,” the NSA report says, according to The Intercept.
Read more: SCMP