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N.S.A. Contractor May Have Mishandled Secrets Before, Prosecutor Says

A federal prosecutor said on Thursday that Reality Leigh Winner, the National Security Agency contractor accused of leaking a highly classified report, might have stolen or exposed other secrets before her arrest last week.

(Ga.) Sheriff's Office. This June 2017 photo released by the Lincoln County (Ga.) Sheriff's Office, shows Reality Winner.

"This was not the first time the defendant mishandled classified information," Jennifer G. Solari, an assistant United States attorney, said during a detention hearing, in which she described a recorded jailhouse telephone call and referred to an episode last year in which Ms. Winner placed a portable storage device into a sensitive computer.

It was not clear, either in Courtroom No. 1 or even to federal investigators, whether Ms. Winner had distributed classified information beyond a single N.S.A. report related to Russian hacking activities. But Ms. Solari said the authorities were concerned because Ms. Winner referred to "documents" during a telephone call with her mother.

"I screwed up," Ms. Winner, 25, the first person to face prosecution by the Trump administration in connection with a leak of sensitive information, said during the call, according to Ms. Solari.

Magistrate Judge Brian K. Epps of United States District Court cited the "strong" weight of evidence against Ms. Winner – including a recorded confession to the F.B.I. – and other factors when he ordered her held without bond until her trial. Ms. Winner, who pleaded not guilty on Thursday, can appeal the judge's bond decision.

The May 5 N.S.A. report that Ms. Winner is charged with releasing was classified as top secret and described hacks by a Russian intelligence service against 122 local election officials and a company that sold software related to voter registration. The Intercept, an online news outlet that, according to Ms. Solari, Ms. Winner admired and kept contact information for in a phone, published the report about an hour before Ms. Winner's arrest was announced on Monday.

Even after Thursday's detention hearing – a proceeding in which the traditional rules of evidence are not enforced – Ms. Winner's motive for apparently mailing the classified document to the website remained murky. According to Ms. Solari, Ms. Winner was "mad about some things she had seen in the media, and she wanted to set the facts right." On her social media accounts, Ms. Winner had expressed anger toward President Trump.

Prosecutors also spent part of Thursday afternoon depicting Ms. Winner as a person with a furtive and troubling side they suggested went well beyond critical Twitter posts. After calling some evidence "downright frightening," Ms. Solari described pages of notes that Ms. Winner kept that included references to Taliban leaders and Osama bin Laden.

In one note, Ms. Solari told the judge, Ms. Winner wrote, "I want to burn the White House down."

According to Ms. Solari, Ms. Winner also plugged a peculiar query into an internet search engine last year: "Do top secret computers detect when flash drives are inserted?" She later placed such a device, which has not been recovered, into one such computer, Judge Epps noted.

Although she said prosecutors did not believe Ms. Winner to be a Taliban sympathizer or an aspiring radical, Ms. Solari made plain that officials were troubled by the evidence they had gathered about a person with a top secret security clearance.

In a signal of the case's significance, the acting United States attorney sat at the prosecution table on Thursday.

The government's portrayal of Ms. Winner was in sharp contrast to one offered by her lawyers, aided by her mother, her stepfather and a friend. Billie Winner-Davis recalled that when her daughter was a child, Ms. Winner's most grievous infraction at school was organizing "the biggest, bestest food fight that the school had ever imagined."

Growing up in Texas, Ms. Winner was a scholastic star who was offered a full scholarship to study engineering. Instead, she chose the Air Force and became a linguist. She was honorably discharged last year, and she recently moved to Augusta, about two hours east of Atlanta, to begin work as a contractor.

"The government is scraping and clawing to build a mountain out of a molehill," Titus T. Nichols, one of Ms. Winner's lawyers, said before Judge Epps announced his ruling.

But on Thursday, Ms. Winner often appeared to be a solitary figure in the green-carpeted courtroom. She said little to her lawyers, cut only occasional glances to the gallery and mostly stood silently – her hands clasped behind her back and her ankles shackled – during a recess.

Yet her voice was clear and steady, especially when Judge Epps turned to her and asked, "How do you plead to the charge, Ms. Winner?"

"Not guilty, your honor."

[Source: By Alan Blinder, The New York Times, Augusta, Ga, 08Jun17]

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Privacy and counterintelligence
small logoThis document has been published on 12Jun17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.