On Monday, a 25-year-old federal contractor was charged with leaking classified information on Russia’s alleged election hacking.
The Intercept published a series of National Security Agency documents alleging interference by Russian hackers beyond what was already known. The documents said Russian hackers had attempted to infiltrate one of the major voting software companies in the U.S. and influence more than 120 local election officials in advance of the November presidential election. The Intercept report said the information came to them anonymously and noted there is no evidence to suggest the hackers succeeded in compromising voting machines or tabulations.
The Department of Justice has charged Reality Leigh Winner of Augusta, Georgia, under the Espionage Act for allegedly removing classified material from the government facility where she worked and mailing it to a news outlet. If convicted, she could face up to 10 years in prison.
An Air Force veteran with a love of CrossFit, yoga and veganism, Winner’s online profiles display a disciplined and mannered lifestyle. After initially sharing some jokes about Winner’s unusual name, the world has been left wondering who Reality Winner is and what would motivate her to leak government secrets.
So who is Reality Winner?
- Winner is a 25-year-old NSA contractor who worked for Pluribus International Corp., a defense and intelligence contractor for the U.S. government, in Georgia, according to a DOJ criminal complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court.
- She began working with Pluribus on Feb. 13 and has top-secret security clearance.
- Winner was raised in Kingsville, Texas, and she served in the Air Force in Maryland for four years.
- Winner is fluent in the Indo-Iranian languages Pashto, Farsi and Dari and was a linguist in the Air Force.
- She graduated from H.M. King in Kingsville, Texas, and excelled in academics, tennis and athletics, her mother Billie Winner-Davis told the Guardian.
- Winner has never been very politically active, Winner-Davis said. “She’s very passionate. Very passionate about her views and things like that, but she’s never to my knowledge been active in politics or any of that,” she told the Daily Beast
Reality Winner is definitely not a Trump fan
Winner’s social media activity makes it pretty clear the young military veteran and government contractor did not support the election of President Donald Trump or his postelection policies.
On election night she tweeted, “Well. People suck,” using her Twitter alias Sara Winners.
Well. People suck. #ElectionNight
— Sara Winners (@Reezlie) November 9, 2016
— Sara Winners (@Reezlie) November 5, 2016
In recent months she’s frequently tweeted at Trump and about Trump administration polices, condemning the decision to go forward with the Dakota Access pipeline and tweeting out “#RESISTANCE” after the U.S. Department of Agriculture started blacking out public information about animal welfare.
When Trump tweeted that immigrants coming from seven Muslim-majority countries were “SO DANGEROUS,” she tweeted back at him asking, “Have you ever even met an Iranian?”
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) June 5, 2017
How did Reality Winner get caught?
Winner allegedly printed out the classified documents from her work computer on May 9 and mailed them to a news agency several days later, the DOJ criminal complaint says.
On May 30, reporters began reaching out, and they informed the federal government that they were in possession of the classified information on Russian interference in the November election and shared copy with the NSA, who verified the document.
An investigation determined the documents had been printed and identified six peopled who had printed that specific report — Winner was among them. An audit of the six computers revealed that Winner was the only one who had email contact with a news outlet.
Special Agent Justin C. Garrick confronted Winner at her home Monday, where she allegedly confessed to printing and mailing the classified information to a news agency.