In Reality Winner Case, Government Warns of Recruitment by Media Outlets that “Procure the Unauthorized Disclosure of Classified Info”

As I’ve reported recently Reality Winner has claimed both that her interview with the FBI was not consensual and that she should be released on bail like people who’ve leaked more sensitive documents, including David Petraeus. Significantly, Winner made claims about her interview and DOJ’s lack of related accusations to suggest the leak of the single document to the Intercept is all they’ve got on her.

The government responded to Winner’s claims — in their response to her request for bail — with a whole new set of claims not included in other documents (on top of making fairly ridiculous claims to suggest Winner should be detained when those who had access — and in the case of David Petraeus, leaked — far more classified information were not).

In the response itself, they raise issues that are fair and significant. But they all seem designed to suggest that Winner must be treated more harshly than Petraeus because she’s more likely to be “recruited” by “non-governmental organizations and media outlets that advocate and procure the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.”

At the same time, the Defendant is an attractive candidate for recruitment by well-funded foreign intelligence services and non-governmental organizations and media outlets that advocate and procure the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

Consider how the government treats different media outlets.

The Washington Post

First, the government’s description of Winner’s phone searches suggest Winner sent the document to a “print news outlet” in addition to the Intercept, and kept looking at both to see if they published the document.

  • On May 9, the Defendant searched for the secure mailing address of a Print News Outlet, viewed a document called “How to Share Documents and News Tips with [Print News Outlet] Journalists” on the Print News Outlet’s website, searched for an Online News Outlet and “secure drop,” and viewed the Online News Outlet’s page containing instructions for the anonymous transmission of leaked information.
  • On May 12, a few days after she mailed the leaked document, the Defendant searched online for the Print News Outlet referenced on May 9, as well as the Online News Outlet to which she transmitted the leaked document, and viewed the homepages of both publications.
  • On May 13, the Defendant searched for the Print News Outlet, viewed its homepage, and then searched “[IC component] leak” and “[IC component] leak [Foreign Country]” on multiple occasions.
  • On May 14, the Defendant searched for and viewed the Print News Outlet’s homepage, and then searched within the Print News Outlet’s website for the name of the relevant IC component. She also searched for and viewed the Online News Outlet’s homepage.
  • On May 22, the Defendant viewed both the Print News and Online News Outlets’ websites, and she searched for the name of the relevant IC component within both websites.

The Washington Post’s “confidential tips” page comes up on a search for “How to Share Documents and News Tips” (though the page does not now have that name). That suggests Winner shared a copy of this document with the WaPo as well as the Intercept. But the focus in these materials on a completed crime is exclusively focused on the Intercept (which also is not named).

The interview transcript released with this filing does not, apparently, discuss Winner’s leak to what appears to be the WaPo, aside from asking if she sent the leaked document anywhere else, to which she said “no.” The agents interviewing her tipped her that the document had been sent to an online news source that she “subscribes” to. So FBI may not have mentioned WaPo because WaPo did nothing with the story — or at least nothing with a source who then informed the government, which is how the Intercept got exposed — meaning the FBI did not yet know about it. Or perhaps the FBI was just far more interested in the fact that Winner leaked to the Intercept.

Wikileaks and Anonymous

The filing does its most significant damage in repeating Winner’s support for WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, and Anonymous. According to the filing, at the same time she was looking for clearance jobs in November 2016 (at the end of her deployment), she was researching anonymous and Wikileaks.

The Defendant’s duplicity is starkly illustrated by the fact that she researched opportunities to access classified information (multiple searches for jobs requiring a security clearance on ClearanceJobs.com) at the same time in November 2016 that she searched for information about anti-secrecy organizations (Anonymous and Wikileaks).

And in March, she told her sister she was “on Assange’s [and Snowden’s] side.”

On March 7, 2017, the Defendant searched for online information about Vault 7, Wikileaks’s alleged compromise of classified government information. Later on March 7, 2017, the Defendant engaged in the following Facebook chat with her sister in which she expressed her delight at the impact of the alleged compromise reported by Wikileaks:

SISTER: OMG that Vault 7 stuff is scary too

WINNER: It’s so awesome though. They just crippled the program.

SISTER: So you’re on Assange’s side

WINNER: Yes. And Snowden

It’s not just that Winner is reading Wikileaks and Snowden-leaked documents (which the government would be happy to use to villainize a leaker in any case). She’s cheering the destruction of CIA (and by association, NSA) capabilities. Which is not something the more prolific leaker David Petraeus did.

The curious declassification of an FBI interview about leaking

Before I get into how these materials treat the Intercept, let me take a detour to talk about the declassification of Winner’s interview which, because it discusses her work at NSA, includes a lot of information that must be classified.

As a number of outlets noted (I believe Politico reported it first), when the transcript of her FBI interview was first released, it included Winner’s social security number and date of birth — a no-no for PACER documents. It included her home computer password. It also revealed Winner worked on collection targeting Iranian Aerospace Forces Group, a remarkable disclosure given that the government says Winner can’t be released because she’ll be targeted by foreign governments (in addition to “non-governmental organizations and media outlets that advocate and procure the unauthorized disclosure of classified information”); they’ve just put a bullseye on her back for Iran. It also reveals she used to work for a drone mission. It includes the code name and the street name of her NSA location.

For either privacy and security reasons, those are remarkable disclosures.

Now consider what they did redact.

There’s a reference to Russian hacking (or the election), and Winner’s description of something akin to that. There’s a few more references, perhaps on the election, again redacted.

Perhaps the most interesting (and understandable) redaction is her explanation for why she thought the collection points on Russian hackers were already compromised.

[sigh] I had figured that, uhm, [half line redacted] that it didn’t matter anyway. Uhm honestly, uh, I just figured that whatever we were using had already been compromised, and this report was just going to be like a – one drop in the bucket.

All of which is to say the classification decisions here are pretty random.

Which is all the more interesting given the fact that the document has no declassification notes, describing who declassified it and for what purpose. If I’m Winner’s lawyers, I’m on the phone with former ISOO head Bill Leonard (who has served as an expert witness in past leak cases), asking him to testify that in a case about mishandling classified information, the government didn’t handle this document in rigorous fashion.

The Intercept: hiding the name, the motive, and a few more details

Which brings me to the decisions about redactions on parts of the transcript that pertain to the Intercept.

It hides the Intercept’s name, but also several references to her motive, including one very long description (on PDF 69)

More interesting, it redacts details about how she mailed it to the Intercept.

And redacts another passage where she describes how she found the address to send it to the Intercept — the actual details of which are included in the passage on her phone searches, above.

It redacts another passage asking whether she included anything in the envelope to the Intercept.

All of which is to say that in submissions that claim Winner is a particular risk because she might be “recruited” by NGOs and “media outlets that advocate and procure the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” it is still hiding key details about Winner’s descriptions of her actions with respect to the Intercept.

After reading this transcript, I’m actually surprised the government hasn’t (yet) taken a harsher approach, perhaps charging her for a leak to the WaPo or for lying, initially, to the FBI (not charging her for lying to the FBI is one way, I guess, where she is getting the treatment David Petraeus got).

That may suggest they’re entertaining going after the Intercept here, for “recruiting” Reality Winner — a replay of the tactic they tried with Chelsea Manning years ago, only this time with an Attorney General and a Congress rushing to invent new categories of non-state hostile intelligence services to criminalize some kinds of publishing.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 replies
  1. SpaceLifeForm says:

    OT: Another battle – FCC, Big ISPs/Telcos and Ajit Pai vs citizens (IC hiding behind the telcos)

    Three comm events yesterday.

    Senator Wyden on floor of Senate yesterday:

    https://medium.com/@RonWyden/a-vote-for-pai-is-a-vote-against-consumers-and-for-big-cable-3ca8147bcf84

    [Senator Wyden is referring to SS7 here]

    Mr. Pai has repeatedly failed to act, even in in the face of a clear danger to the security of Americans’ mobile phones. Despite years of warnings about well-known weaknesses in mobile phone networks, that allows hackers and spies to track Americans’ phones, intercept calls and messages, and hack the phones themselves, Mr. Pai has taken a hands-off attitude.

    His FCC says it won’t force wireless carriers to fix these weakness, instead arguing that voluntary measures will be sufficient. I disagree — self-regulation has clearly failed. The FCC needs to force carriers to secure their networks and protect America’s critical communications infrastructure. His failure to act is a failure of leadership that makes Americans less safe.

    In conclusion, Mr. President, it is clear that Net Neutrality has sparked the flames of innovation and commerce on the Internet. The Senate has the responsibility to make sure that those flames are not extinguished.

    I will vote against the confirmation of Ajit Pai, and I will vote in favor of a truly free and open internet for all Americans. I encourage my colleagues to do the same. With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.

    https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/09/isps-want-supreme-court-to-kill-title-ii-net-neutrality-rules-now-and-forever/

    [Another angle of attack in case Pai is outed]

    [And he should be outed because as head of FCC one should not step on their dick]

    https://www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2017/9/28/16379316/fcc-iphone-fm-radio-activation-request-ajit-pai

    Apple said Pai’s request wasn’t possible for its newest phones. “iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 models do not have FM radio chips in them nor do they have antennas designed to support FM signals, so it is not possible to enable FM reception in these products,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      Under Ajit Pai watch, FCC made things worse for Puerto Rico recovery.

      https://m.slashdot.org/story/331817

      FCC Silenced Puerto Rico Radio Station’s Boosters In March 2017

      from the break-the-silence dept.

      An dochasac writes:

      WAPA (680 AM) is a radio station in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria took out power, phone lines, cell towers and internet, WAPA was the only Puerto Rican radio station on the air for crucial public emergency communication. But WAPA’s signal coverage was significantly cut in March 2017 when the FCC refused to renew the license for synchronous AM booster stations at Arecibo, Mayaguez and Aguadilla in March due to procedural issues with the petition for renewal. This decision limited the coverage, signal strength and signal quality of this station for remote and mountainous parts of Puerto Rico where the need for emergency communications is greatest. The FCC audio division chief who pulled WAPA’s synchronous booster license decided to retire a few days ago. The position is open but is focused on legal training rather than technical expertise and experience with emergency communications.

      http://www.radioworld.com/business-and-law/0009/should-am-boosters-be-permanently-allowed/338205

      • bmaz says:

        Nice conversation you have here going on with….yourself. Do you have anything germane to post on actual Maria and Puerto Rico threads, or is this all you got?

        • SpaceLifeForm says:

          Nice. Keep up the good work.

          Your new thread was not in existence when I posted this.

          It *IS* material.

  2. SpaceLifeForm says:

    The interesting tell from the DOJ response:

    They revealed (essentially acknowleged) a bunch of meta-meta-data.

    They must be sending a message to IC.

    As in:

    All your meta-data are belong to us.

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