The Strange Case of Reality Winner and The Russia Connection

The 25-year-old defense contractor with top-secret security clearance has been charged with espionage after she leaked a five page NSA report to the news organization, The Intercept this week.

Reality Lee Winner was arrested very quickly after the Intercept article went live prompting questions about journalistic ethics. When The Intercept corroborated the document with the NSA, apparently they shared pictures of the document that was given to them by Winner. Apparently, a rookie mistake, images shared with the agency displayed the crease from being folded, and hand carried from a secure government location, as well as “microdots” that are used to stamp time and location to printed documents.

This is how the government was able to announce the case against reality only an hour after publication by The Intercept. This is a stunning lapse in judgment from an agency called “the best operational security experts in journalism” by the man who reported on the initial Snowden leaks for the Washington Post, Barton Gellman.


Edward Snowden, himself, famed leaker and liberty advocate said that the manner in which the government may prosecute Winner presented a “threat to the free press.” Under the Espionage Act, according to Snowden, the jury will be forbidden from hearing “why the defendant acted and bars them from deciding whether the outcome was to the public’s benefit.”

Julian Assange, the lead editor, and face of Wikileaks said Reality should be supported. “She is a young woman accused of courage in trying to help us know,” Assange said during an appearance on the Ecuadorian embassy balcony in London.

Upon police investigation today, police are accusing Winner of expressing sentiment for extremist terrorist groups in the Middle East. According to investigators who claim to have found Reality’s notebook, the young blond woman had plans to “burn down the White House” and immigrate to Afghanistan to join the Taliban.

The document released by the intercept with few redaction details a spear-phishing attack. A “Nigerian prince”-style infected email sent to about a hundred local election officials and voter registration workers. The NSA document clarifies that at least one official was duped into opening one such harmful email but that, as far as the agency could tell, vote tallying was not tampered with. Nevertheless, democrats were quick to call this leak-proof of high-tech Russian aggression.

This is not the first time large media outlets have spun possible phishing emails to constitute full-scale hacks. Kim Dotcom, a recent figure in the investigation of Seth Rich has been accused of using his notorious capabilities to create an infected email. Cyber-warfare is serious and destructive, not a game of spam in grandma’s AOL account.

The other day, former Director of the FBI, James Comey, testified before the Senate intelligence committee about his actions while Director and his knowledge of Russian election hacking in 2016.

Comey said during the hearing, “There should be no fuzz on this whatsoever. The Russians interfered in our election during the 2016 cycle. They did it with purpose, they did it with sophistication. They did it with overwhelming technical efforts and measures driven from the top of that government.” This is not the description of a phishing email attack.

The FBI knows what sophistication in hacking looks like. Vault 7, a currently active leak being dropped piecemeal by Wikileaks details CIA hacking tools and malware that are worlds ahead of something that could be drawn up by a teenager on the dark web. Russia is not a lightweight when it comes to cyber-warfare.

Russian hackers are suspect in attacks on Georgia and undoubtedly crafted the “Cyber Snake” currently ravaging the Ukraine. It would be foolish to believe that this hack, described by Winner’s leaks, was effective in altering the outcome of the election, or to believe that was the intent of the sub-par attack.

Gavin Hanson

Gavin Hanson

Editor at Liberty Viral
Gavin edits and writes here at Liberty Viral and also writes at The Libertarian Republic. He attends school at the University of Iowa, majoring in History and Communication Studies.
Gavin Hanson