A 25-year-old National Security Agency contractor – with a top-secret security clearance – who has been arrested and charged with leaking classified information publicly referred to President Trump as a “piece of s—t” and a “soulless ginger orangutan” on social media, said she wanted to “resist” the president and pledged to back Iran in a hypothetical war against the U.S.
And if America could only have four more years of President Obama, the NSA contractor said in November 2016, she would “literally eat the original constitution.”
A leaked intelligence document was published Monday by The Intercept, which reported that Russian hackers targeted U.S. voting systems only days before the 2016 election. The document describes how Russian operatives tried to use a spear-phishing email scheme to target government officials and employees.
The classified information was allegedly given to The Intercept by NSA contractor Reality Leigh Winner, 25, according to multiple reports. NBC News reported a federal official said Winner had supplied the report to The Intercept in May.
Winner, who has worked as a contractor at Pluribus International Corporation in Georgia since Feb. 13, was arrested by the FBI at her home over the weekend. Department of Justice officials said Winner is being charged with sending classified material to a news outlet. She is scheduled to appear at a Thursday detention hearing before a federal judge. She faces up to 10 years in prison.
“Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein in a statement. “People who are trusted with this classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation.”
According to the NSA report, Russian military intelligence officials from the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, targeted an unnamed U.S. election software company in August and October 2016. The report describes a product made by VR systems, which is a Florida-based company that provides electronic voting services and equipment in eight states, the New York Post reported.
Who is Reality Leigh Winner?
Just who is this NSA contractor who took highly classified information to a U.S. news organization?
Winner was raised in Kingsville, Texas, and is an Air Force veteran who served on active duty from December 2010 to December 2016 as a cryptologic language analyst with a top-secret security clearance. Her last duty station was at Fort Mead in Maryland, where she served as a senior airman, rank of E4. Winner is fluent in the languages of Afghanistan, including Pashto, Farsi and Dari.
Winner is also apparently a supporter of failed presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and various liberal causes and icons, such as Michael Moore and Bill Maher. On Twitter, she follows Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks, Anonymous and “alt” government agency accounts. She’s a supporter of “The Resistance,” the “Women’s March” and the Islamic Society of North America.
And she’s certainly no fan of President Trump, whom she said she wanted to “resist.”
Winner – an environmentalist who lifts weights, teaches yoga and watches “Dr. Who” with her cat – called Trump a “piece of s–t” in a Facebook post concerning the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Her Facebook post stated:
“You have got to be s–tting me right now. No one has called? The White House shut down their phone lines. There have been protests for months, at both the drilling site and and outside the White House. I’m losing my mind. If you voted for this piece of –t, explain this. He’s lying. He’s blatantly lying and the second largest supply of freshwater in the country is now at risk. #NoDAPL #NeverMyPresident #Resist.”
Winner also met with staffers in the office of Sen. David Perdue, R-GA., earlier this year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Perdue’s spokesman said the meeting was about “environmental issues.”
Winner said the meeting went “really well,” and she claimed she was “well heard” when she told Perdue’s staffers that lawmakers should “not be afraid to directly state when our president or his cabinet tell outright lies.”
Winner, who also posted on Twitter as Sara Winners, called Trump an “orange fascist” and “the most dangerous” person in America. She blasted the president for “silencing” the Environmental Protection Agency in a post with the hashtag #F—ingWall.
She called President Trump a “soulless ginger orangutan” in a Facebook post about climate change three months ago.
Winner argued that climate change is a more pressing issue than health care “since not poisoning an entire population seems to be more in line with ‘health’ care, and not the disease care system that people voted for a soulless ginger orangutan to ‘fix.'”
And she doesn’t want kids because she “worr[ies] enough about the impact of climate change on my cats.”
Perhaps most disturbing of all: In a hypothetical war between the U.S. and Iran, Winner said she would “stand” with Iran.
The following was her reply to a Feb. 7 tweet by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif: “There are many Americans protesting US govt aggression towards Iran. If our Tangerine in Chief declares war, we stand with you!”
Winner posted that tweet less than a week before beginning her job as a federal contractor with a top-secret security clearance.
Winner also believes “being white is terrorism,” according to a Feb. 25 tweet. And she’s a major supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.
She has tweeted the hashtags #TrumpIsAC–t,” #NotMyWall and #NotMyPresident.
Before the 2016 election, she posted the following Facebook comment, which has since been removed from the site: “On a positive note, this Tuesday when we become the United States of the Russian Federation, Olympic lifting will be the national sport.”
On his show Tuesday, talk-radio kingpin Rush Limbaugh said Winner “is typical of American millennial youth today on the left”:
She has been totally radicalized. She hates Donald Trump. She hates the Republican Party. She hates conservatism. Where would she become radicalized like this? Well, obviously wherever she went to school she was radicalized, but I would maintain that she has been radicalized by American pop culture as well. …
This is Reality Winner. There’s nothing about this woman’s name that makes sense to me. The reality of what she’s done is not a winner. It’s a losing proposition. She is a Bernie Sanders supporter. She is a Trump resister. You know, why obsess over Russian hacks when any idiot can walk into a company working with the NSA and steal any damn secret they want? Why worry about Russia?
When somebody like this, a 25-year-old anti-Trumper, anti-American, pro-Bernie Sanders can get hold of this kind of stuff, why worry about the Russians hacking anything? We’ve got our own domestic people hacking and leaking. And now leaking has become politicized. Leaking is a crime. And we’re eliminating the criminal aspect to it because the leaks the left likes happen to be leaks against Trump. So we’re gonna eliminate the fact that there’s criminal activity going on here and we are going to start celebrating leakers as whistleblowers.
Winner’s mother, Billie Winner Davis, told reporters Tuesday that her daughter is a good woman who does “what’s right.”
“She’s got a good heart,” Winner-Davis said. “She serves her community. She served her country. She believes in always doing what’s right.”
Her stepfather, Gary Davis, described Winner as a “patriot.”
“I know my daughter. She’s a patriot,” he said Tuesday. “She served with distinction in one of the highest classified jobs in the Air Force.”
Winner’s attorney, Titus Thomas Nichols, told ABC News, “She’s a good person with no criminal history who is caught in a political whirlwind.”
The Justice Department says Winner has admitted to printing a classified intelligence document, even though she didn’t have a “need to know” and she was aware the report was classified. Winner also reportedly admitted to taking the NSA report from her office and mailing it to the news organization. The Intercept claims it doesn’t know who actually provided the classified documents.
Late Monday evening, WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange tweeted support for Winner. He wrote: “Alleged NSA whistleblower Reality Leigh Winner must be supported. She is a young woman accused of courage in trying to help us know.
Assange also tweeted: “It doesn’t matter why she did it or the quality [of] the report. Acts of non-elite sources communicating knowledge should be strongly encouraged.”
What’s in the NSA report? Russian hackers’ ‘cyber espionage mandate’
The NSA document states that the hackers were given a “cyber espionage mandate specifically directed at U.S. and foreign elections.”
The Russian operatives reportedly sent election software employees fake emails that appeared to be from Google on Aug. 24, 2016. In October, the hackers used an “operational” Gmail account and pretended to be a VR Systems employee. They used a spear-phishing attack “targeting US local government organizations,” according to the NSA. The Russian hackers sent the emails to at least 122 email addresses “associated with named local government organizations” on Oct. 31 or Nov. 1.
It is suspected the spear-phishing emails were also sent to officials “involved in the management of voter registration systems,” the NSA report states.
“The emails were said to have contained weaponized Microsoft Word attachments, which were set up to appear as unharmful documentation for the VR Systems’ EViD voter database — but were actually embedded with automated software commands that are secretly turned on as soon as the user opens the document,” the New York Post reported. “The hack ultimately gave the Russians a back door and the ability to deliver any sort of malware or malicious software they wanted, the report says.”
The NSA document also indicates there were two other incidents of Russian attempts to interfere. In one case, the hackers pretended to be with another voting company, referenced in the NSA report as “US company 2,” and they offered “election-related products and services” in their emails. In another case, they sent emails to the American Samoa Election Office and tried to target more accounts.
There has been no indication of what the Russian operatives were actually able to accomplish, if anything at all.
The NSA report claims they were focused on “mimicking a legitimate absentee ballot-related service provider.”
“It is unknown, whether the aforementioned spear-phishing deployment successfully compromised the intended victims, and what potential data could have been accessed by the cyber actor,” the NSA document stated.
Limbaugh noted Tuesday that the NSA document does not indicate the Russians actually hacked the U.S. election or even influenced it:
[I]t’s a phishing campaign. It’s not a hack. That’s putting a fine point on it. What the document says is that the Russians, or if anybody, whoever was behind this, was trying to find their way into voter registration rolls, if anything, that is what was going on. They were not tampering with votes that had been cast. In fact, I think all of this is smoke and mirrors. With so much fake news out there, with so many things in the news that have been provably, demonstrably inaccurate and wrong, this is just too convenient.
But even if it is true, the only thing the document alleges is that the Russians were attempting to spear phish certain areas of voter registration roles, not the counting or tabulating or casting of votes in any way, shape, manner or form. But I even get antsy even acknowledging that as a possibility, because I think it’s all just too pat. Where’s this stuff been?
Look, there are plenty of people that have access to this document that hate Trump that could have gotten this out way before today, way before yesterday, whenever this happened. And they could have gotten it out to a website far more mainstream than something called The Intercept.
But this keeps all the big guys’ fingerprints off of it so we can’t question their motives. All they do is end up reporting this, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s to add so-called credibility to it. I’m suspicious and dubious of all of this.
VR Systems does not sell voting machines, though it does have contracts in New York, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, the New York Post reported.
However, Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting, told The Intercept: “If someone has access to a state voter database, they can take malicious action by modifying or removing information. This could affect whether someone has the ability to cast a regular ballot, or be required to cast a ‘provisional’ ballot — which would mean it has to be checked for their eligibility before it is included in the vote. And it may mean the voter has to jump through certain hoops such as proving their information to the election official before their eligibility is affirmed.”
VR Systems’ Chief Operating Officer Ben Martin told the Intercept: “Phishing and spear-phishing are not uncommon in our industry. We regularly participate in cyber alliances with state officials and members of the law enforcement community in an effort to address these types of threats. We have policies and procedures in effect to protect our customers and our company.”