US spy agency’s contractor held after leak of Russia hacking report

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WASHINGTON: The publication of a top secret National Security Agency report on Russian interference in the US election on Monday was just the latest in a string of disruptive leaks.

US authorities arrested a 25-year-old woman, Reality Leigh Winner, who worked for an NSA subcontractor, soon after the report was posted by The Intercept, a news website. A top secret US report showing that hackers from Russian military intelligence tried repeatedly to break into US voting systems before last year’s presidential election raised new alarms on Monday about the extent of Moscow’s meddling.

But the alleged leak of the National Security Agency document by one of the tens of thousands of private contractors to US spy agencies, barely one month after the report was written, became the newest embarrassment for the US intelligence community. Keen to crack down on a flood of leaks, almost immediately after the report was published, the Trump administration announced the arrest of intelligence contractor Reality Leigh Winner, 25, on charges of violating the espionage act.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement that,

“Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation’s security and undermines public faith in government. People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation.”

The NSA report was published on Monday by The Intercept, an online news website which focuses on national security issues. It depicted a hacking operation tied closely to Moscow’s GRU intelligence directorate that targeted private US companies providing voter registration services and equipment to local governments. The operation, which potentially threatened the integrity of the US vote, went on for months, until just days before the November 8 election, according to the document.

The NSA did not conclude whether the hackers had any effect on the outcome, The Intercept said. But US intelligence officials have repeatedly said vote tallies were not affected in the election, in which President Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in a shock upset.

The Intercept said the NSA document was dated May 5, and did not say how they acquired it. But barely an hour after its report appeared, the Department of Justice announced the arrest of Winner, an employee of a national security contractor in Augusta, Georgia, for leaking top secret information to “an online news outlet”.

While neither the information leaked or the outlet were identified in the arrest documents, the information was also described as a report dated May 5. Intelligence officials have confirmed to US media that Winner’s case was linked to The Intercept.

–AFP

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