Whistleblowers

Trump's First Leak Arrest: An Old War on Leakers, Not a New War on the Press

Imprisoning people who reveal top-secret reports has become business as usual. Should it be?

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Reality Winner
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A woman with the improbable name of Reality Winner, a 25-year-old employee of a private contracting firm in Georgia, has been arrested for leaking a top secret report to the press. It's the first arrest for a leak under President Donald Trump's administration.

The outlet involved appears to be The Intercept, which yesterday published a top-secret National Security Agency (NSA) report. The document offers more details on a claim that officials had already made public in a much more circumspect fashion: They believe sources within Russia connected to the government did attempt to hack into voting systems within the United States. According to The Intercept, the NSA has learned

that Russian government hackers, part of a team with a "cyber espionage mandate specifically directed at U.S. and foreign elections," focused on parts of the system directly connected to the voter registration process, including a private sector manufacturer of devices that maintain and verify the voter rolls. Some of the company's devices are advertised as having wireless internet and Bluetooth connectivity, which could have provided an ideal staging point for further malicious actions.

The report provides no evidence that hackers altered election outcomes. It also doesn't seem to implicate Trump or his campaign in any way. Nonetheless, much of the reaction to the arrest has put an emphasis on tracking through Winner's social media accounts to pin down her political positions. The Daily Caller dug up various progressive positions and criticisms of Trump on her Facebook page, for example, as did Fox News.

The facts that Winner hates Trump and supported Bernie Sanders shouldn't immediately mark her as a national security risk, though there are some on Twitter who seem to think that Winner's political views are themselves evidence of "treason." (The reverse is also true: Some tweeters seem to believe that Winner is some sort of hero simply because she shares their distaste for the president.) At this point, "What does this mean for Trump?" has become the default question in these debates; there seems to be much less interest in asking whether the public should have the right to be informed about the NSA report's contents.

On one hand, this doesn't really look like whistleblowing. Edward Snowden revealed what he believed to be massive, widespread violations of Americans' privacy. Winner decided to reveal the contents of a report that doesn't appear to show any wrongdoing by Trump aides or his campaign.

On the other hand, it's worthwhile to question how much of the information from the NSA really should have been kept "top secret." We can't assume that whatever decisions officials use to classify information is appropriate or that Winner should be prosecuted for violating protocol absent of any analysis of harm. As David Frum of The Atlantic tweets:

While Trump's ascent to the presidency has sparked fears of an attack on the freedom of the press, this arrest is business as usual. Under President Barack Obama, leakers like Winner were prosecuted too; this doesn't appear to be any different than that. Any other administration would have probably responded exactly the way Trump's did here. Whether that's how we want our government to behave when secret information is leaked is another question entirely.

Meanwhile, the FBI says it was able to catch Winner partly due to technical information gleaned from the NSA's communications with The Intercept prior to the story's publication, meaning the media outlet didn't adequately protect Winner from being found out. If true, this case could discourage further leaks to The Intercept, or even further leaks in general. The Intercept has responded with a rather vague call for skepticism toward the government's claims.

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  1. there are some on Twitter who seem to think that Winner’s political views are themselves evidence of “treason.” (The reverse is also true: Some tweeters seem to believe that Winner is some sort of hero

    Traitor or hero: What is Reality?

    1. Reality is fake news.

      1. Sounds like a hoax name.

    2. The daughter of some hippie-dippie parents?

    3. Sounds like a communist traitor to me. How the FUCK did some wacko commie cunt like this ever get a security clearance in the first place?

      1. She enlisted in the Air Force.

  2. A woman with the improbable name of Reality Winner, a 25-year-old employee of a private contracting firm in Georgia, has been arrested for leaking a top secret report to the press.

    Just as improbably; she’s more of a man than Chelsea Manning ever was.

    1. Chelsea would probably take that as a compliment.

      1. Bradley Manning would not.

      2. Chelsea would probably take that as a compliment.

        I think this assumes a mental state and/or gender construct that can’t be known or reliably inferred. I know plenty of women who get plenty mad when analogized to weakness directly and/or through their gender/anatomy.

  3. The left wouldn’t have really cared about Snowden–except that he made Obama look bad.

    This leaker will be a hero to the left because of Trump.

    Principals over . . . you know the rest.

    1. Vice-principals?

    2. Guidance counselors?

      Teachers?

      1. Hall monitor

    3. It seems to me that the left was overwhelmingly on Snowden’s side, whereas the chicken hawk “hard on crime” types on the right were calling him a traitor

      1. “It seems to me that the left was overwhelmingly on Snowden’s side”

        You must know entirely different leftist than I do/are in the public eye.

        The cultural/political left was largely unanimous that revelations about Obama were treason.

        And of course, now, everyone on the left is absolutely positive that Snowden is nothing less than an active Russian spy.

        1. How ca n a leftist consider anything but the behavior of their own kind to be treason? By definition, progressives ARE traitors.

      2. I’m no Righty or Lefty, but, By Jove, I think U got that right!!!

  4. After we finish blaming leaker and leakee for a leak that in no way harmed US security, can we make available some time to discuss the leak?

    No one cares about the Orb of Power, just tell me who wants it and who wants it destroyed.

    1. Suddenly, it seems weird that I’d always regarded Heavy Metal as an oddity rather than a bit prescient.

    2. And fuck you Scott for making me remember David Frum ie., most punchable face ever.

  5. “it’s worthwhile to question how much of the information from the NSA really should have been kept “top secret.” We can’t assume that whatever decisions officials use to classify information is appropriate or that Winner should be prosecuted for violating protocol absent of any analysis of harm.”

    About 5% is classified for real national security reasons, 95% is classified so we don’t storm dc with torches and hang them from lampposts. I’m cynical.

    1. About 5%

      I’m cynical.

      Make up your mind!

  6. The facts that Winner…supported Bernie Sanders shouldn’t immediately mark her as a national security risk…

    Just a national spending one.

    1. It marks her as a threat to my paycheck along with all the other Bern-tard pinheads.

  7. If you read the document closely, it appears it only addresses what it calls Russian ACTORS – not officials or agents.
    I am confident the document would have used those terms if they had proof of that.
    This leaves open the question of who is a Russian actor and what make him/her so.

    The details are vague enough to NOT conclude that the Russian government itself directed the actions in the report, as far as I am concerned.

    1. Thanks to this 25 year old, the Russians know we are watching and how.

      Reality is a bitch! I mean it in the non-name way.

      1. Thanks to this 25 year old, the Russians know we are watching and how.

        In all likelihood they already knew that. Pretty much all the various national intelligence agencies know that everyone is watching everyone else. The Russian’s reaction to this leak is probably “nyet shit Sherlockski.”

        1. Maybe- maybe not. Its why things are secret. Confirming that you are watching and how makes your job more difficult in espionage.

          You cannot watch everywhere, so expecting to be watched still leaves doubt that you actually are being watched.

          Kind of like whether the government keeps tabs on us trouble makers on Reason. I suspect they do but there has been no confirmation. Except Wood Chipper-Gate, of course.

          1. Who is watching the Watchmen Watchers?

          2. “Except Wood Chipper-Gate, of course”

            Hell of an exception. Even if that somehow wasn’t a big deal, as you seem to be implying, do you doubt that event turned the Eye of Sauron fully in this direction?

          3. If she violated the terms of the national security agreements she signed then should should stand trial for any appropriate criminal charges, up to and including treason.

        2. Not to mention that from a Russian Intelligence perspective, it’s a ‘The good news is the bad news.’ situation, US Intelligence on the situation is relatively moot.

          The worst that happens is you attempted low-level engineering, fail, and nothing else happens. Successfully rigging the election and getting caught would in many ways be a, if not the, preferable from a Russian Nationalistic/Statist standpoint.

  8. I think all these leaks fall into a grey area. Ones that reveal our governments mistreatment of its citizens are much more palatable and important than those that simply reveal information about investigations or the internal workings of the various government agencies they’re leaked from. And i find it odd people are so concerned with how “presidential”, “dignified”, and “professional” our president acts, but then take glee in knowing people are running amok behind the scenes, breaking all kinds of ethical and professional standards. All agents of government should be held to the same expectations and standards.

    In this girls case, as the article mentions, this leak is fairly pointless since it accomplishes very little and doesn’t add much to already known information. And just as in the professional world, an employer has all manner of legal recourse to use against an employee who simply visits the wrong websites or misuses company equipment/computers for personal gain, let alone actually steals or removes information. These leakers must be smart enough to realize its a short walk from hero to martyr. And if you’re information doesn’t really break new ground you’re chances are much higher to be viewed as the latter.

  9. A woman with the improbable name of Reality Winner…

    Names like that make me even more convinced that we’re actually living in a Matrix style virtual reality world. Surely no one would actually name their kid something that stupid.

    1. You know what other names, parents should probably not name their kids?

      1. I don’t know, but I’m getting pretty tired of seeing boys named “Hunter” and girls named “Madison.”

        1. Why is it that the ones named Hunter will never be hunters? Is it like the driveway/parkway thing?

          1. And given the methods Reality used, she doesn’t live in this reality. And she is going to be the opposite of a winner.

        2. Shouldn’t that be Huntter and Madyson?

    2. She changed her name to Reality, not her given name.

      1. Incorrect. Her given name is Reality.

        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new…..-name.html

  10. I think whistleblowers should be protected if the leaks involve government wrongdoing.

    This is a case of leaking a document that government suspected actors attempting to hack voting machines. The intelligence community does not have evidence that they were Russian officials nor that the hacks were successful.

    In other words, this lady had an axe to grind, is stupid by not covering her tracks, and got caught.

    Even funnier is that this leaked document goes against the left’s position that the election was actually compromised.

    1. The intelligence community does not have evidence that they were Russian officials nor that the hacks were successful.

      Even funnier is that this leaked document goes against the left’s position that the election was actually compromised.

      When has the left ever let truth get in the way of building a narrative? They’ll pretend that this leak somehow “proves” exactly the opposite of all that. By this time tomorrow, if not sooner, every leftist asshole on facebook will be blathering about what a hero she is for “proving” that Vladamir Putin himself hacked the election (he’s got mad computer hacking skillz, apparently) and handed it Trump because… something about piss fetishes and Russian hookers.

    2. Even funnier is that this leaked document goes against the left’s position that the election was actually compromised.

      The cynical side of me suspects that this is why this didn’t get leaked earlier – “we have a secret document showing the Russians tried to hack the election!” plays better than “look at this document showing Russians failing to impact our election!”

      1. Apparently she sent it out on May 9th, the day Comey was fired. I wouldn’t be surprised if that caused a psychotic break and sent it in a fit of hysterical rage, because the piss-poor job she did covering her tracks makes me suspect that she wanted to get caught so she could be a martyr like Snowden.

        Except Snowden was smart enough to get out of the country and figure out asylum channels before he leaked his info.

    3. Even funnier is that this leaked document goes against the left’s position that the election was actually compromised.

      Even funnier is that this position goes against their own earlier position that it wasn’t. At least, if the election was definitively rigged, I fail to see how we avoid wading into the Obama Administration(‘s Intelligence Community) with federal subpoenas and hangmen’s nooses.

      1. Yeah, the left seem not to realize that if it was rigged, it was done so on Obama’s watch and his admin should be investigated for it.

    4. People like her are not whistle blowing, they are reporting to the press. There is a big difference.

  11. David Frum????? When did Americans start listening to Canadians?

  12. Imprisoning people who reveal top-secret reports has become business as usual. Should it be?

    Depends. Is the information TS because it’s an actual matter of national security, or is it TS to cover up government wrongdoing?

  13. She broke her professional word over a report that tells ys nothing surprising. Foreign hackers tried to get access to sensitive systems. It happens everyday. It would be more unusual that no one tried to hack those systems. What she released was not newsworthy.

    1. What she released was not newsworthy.

      In that case, she deserves The Boats!

      1. The Boats. That’s cold, bro.

    2. What’s newsworthy is that the US has the ability to intercept the foreign hackers, presumably without the hackers’ knowledge. This is valuable information that the US would not want the hackers to find out, because then they’ll change their tactics and perhaps become more difficult to intercept.

      In WWII, when the allies broke the Enigma code they went to great lengths not to let Germany KNOW they’d broken the enigma code. It would have been disastrous if some disgruntled government employee had spilled that secret to the press.

      1. What’s newsworthy is that the US has the ability to intercept the foreign hackers, presumably without the
        hackers’ knowledge.

        This is, in no way, what the report says. The US didn’t ‘intercept’ the foreign hackers and the ‘attack’ was predominantly phishing/emai related,l so only the dumbest of dumb hackers would assume their actions weren’t being seen/known/traced. Moreover, I’m a little befuddled how you attack an information source, attain no information, and assume yourself not to have been intercepted by someone or something. There’s actually very little in the leak to distinguish this attack/these attacks from a general phishing scheme that happened to get a handful of emails from a company that produces voting machines or, at least, the specific distinguishing details are largely relegated to other documents/reports. Not to say that it’s not intelligence, but it’s a far cry from Enigma.

        The only way the US election system gets toppled by stuff like this is if the average American is generally dumb enough to open phishing email and execute the associated trojans/malware. While that may be exceedingly likely, the result would mainly vindicate a whole generation of IT professionals who’ve told the average American to stop fucking doing that rather than putting Putin himself into the White House.

        1. It seems to indicate one system was hacked, and then that used to phish other systems.

          1. It seems to indicate one system was hacked, and then that used to phish other systems.

            Cyber threat actors [redacted] executed a spear-phishing campaign from the email address noreplyautomaticservice@gmail.com on 24 August 2016 targeting victims that included employees of U.S. Company 1,

            Either the initial attack mentioned at the earliest date in the disclosure, against ‘Company 1’, was phishing/email related or the NSA is a bunch of really clever sumbitches using date/numbering ranges having nothing to do with the actual date/order in which events actually took place. If you’ve got earlier dates or additional companies/information, I think the NSA and/or American public might like to know.

            Personally, I *still* blame anyone who got spear phished from noreplyautomaticservice@gmail.com whether the phishers were Russian or not.

          2. No, because the method they used–the Powershell prompt–is typically defaulted in the OS to not be enabled, for the exact reason that it makes it harder for phishers to access your terminal/network. That’s why you typically have to be an admin to enable it by setting it to “Unrestricted” which is unlikely because of the cyber-vulnerability issues it would cause. Three of the systems that were targeted likely rejected the email for this very reason.

        2. Remember how VITAL it was that we go from paper ballots to our current system? Because paper ballots were so “easy to manipulate”?

      2. Hell, we were willing to let Communists go free rather than risk exposure of the Venona project (I also think it was funny that the intel services kept the Dem administrations in the dark out of fear that they’d leak its existence to the Soviets) where we could decipher Russian cables left and right for years.

        Now, the leakers seem to think there is no issue with allowing foreign agents know exactly how we are spying on them.

        1. That notion should be dispelled by prosecuting the shit out of this commie bitch.

  14. In other news, did anyone else realize that Comey was 6’8”? That’s nuts.

  15. Yeah sorry no sympathy for a fucking neo-marxist racist who thinks white people are terrorists. She can rot in jail

    1. The funny thing, if the statement was really made, is that she would be a terrorist that stole classified information. By her own definition.

      A terrorist stealing classified info ought to be worth life in prison.

    2. You were mentioned in the article you didn’t fucking read.

  16. This sort of information is Top Secret because you don’t want your adversary to know what you know. The government doesn’t want Russia to know that the US has the ability to intercept Russia’s activities, because then Russia will change its tactics and perhaps become even more difficult to intercept.

    1. This sort of information is Top Secret because you don’t want your adversary to know what you know.

      Looking at the report, it’s backwards. You don’t want your adversary to know what you don’t know. There are a couple of diagrams sketching out how a fishing scheme works. They don’t contain anything factual in them and are, at best, loosely represent reality. The only key parts are what’s actually taking place that the NSA doesn’t appear to know or care about. However, again, all this only matters if the GRU is ber-serious about not getting caught.

      Considering that getting ‘their guy’ into the White House and enacting policy indistinguishable from non- or anti-Russian policy for the next 4-8 yrs. is probably not the goal then, at some point, they want to get caught or at least aren’t averse to the idea.

  17. The Russians wanted to mess with the voting system in the US. Wow, what a scoop.

    Let me just go on record here and say the Russians STILL want to mess with our voting system, our school system, our news reporting system, and any other system that they can get their little pink fingers into.

    The leak by “Ms. Reality, 2017” was meaningless except to divulge some NSA inner workings. She sounds like a typical progressive.

    Sad

    1. Trump doesn’t seem to understand or care that the Russians are constantly attacking us as you put it.

      1. Neither were the Democrats up until about 8 months ago.

  18. We can’t assume that whatever decisions officials use to classify information is appropriate or that Winner should be prosecuted for violating protocol absent of any analysis of harm

    Sorry, but that’s bullshit, and it means that there is nothing but perpetual second-and-tertiary-guesses about the “why” things are classified. Often information which may be 100% banal and inconsequential at first glance could be enough for some unknown 3rd party to realize the identity of a covert operative, or realize that their personal communications have been compromised. You simply don’t have the ability to make the analysis independent of the personal knowledge of the classifying authority.

    Yes, that means classifying authorities still routinely classify information that isn’t “secret” so much as “politically embarassing”. So it goes. That’s the price you pay.

    The real measure of whether something should be leaked is whether it reveals fraud/waste/misconduct by government – aka ‘compelling public interest’ – not some inverse rationale where everything is OK to leak insofar as it doesn’t do ‘obvious’ harm.

    1. The real measure of whether something should be leaked is whether it reveals fraud/waste/misconduct by government – aka ‘compelling public interest’ – not some inverse rationale where everything is OK to leak insofar as it doesn’t do ‘obvious’ harm.

      This sounds bizarre coming from a libertarian. The government has no right to hold secrets and perpetrating said secrets on the public’s dime is inherently harmful. I don’t agree that the government should be forced to reveal covert operatives at the drop of a hat but a burden of real harm isn’t exactly unreasonable (especially to spend more taxpayer money to jail an [accused] traitor). I don’t mean to overturn anything with regard to the case really, she violated her contract for exceedingly political reasons and should be punished, but the notion that the government gets to keep secrets and that we should shut up and accept it is exceedingly anti-libertarian.

      1. This sounds bizarre coming from a libertarian. The government has no right to hold secrets and perpetrating said secrets on the public’s dime is inherently harmful.

        We don’t live in a libertarian society. In a libertarian society, something like the NSA wouldn’t exist. Instead, we would have multiple private companies fulfilling the same function. Such private companies could, of course, keep sources and documents secret and wouldn’t be accountable to anybody. They could also impose liquidated damages on their employees for the release of information as a condition of employment.

        but the notion that the government gets to keep secrets and that we should shut up and accept it is exceedingly anti-libertarian

        You can’t blindly apply libertarian ideals to non-libertarian government. I don’t think that government should limit access to public lands or run industrial operations. But as long as the government has a monopoly on, say, utilities, they have to do those things.

        1. We don’t live in a libertarian society. In a libertarian society, something like the NSA wouldn’t exist.

          Right, and shrugging and saying “The NSA’s gotta do what the NSA’s gotta do.” isn’t going to get us from here to there.

          You can’t blindly apply libertarian ideals to non-libertarian government.

          I’m not. I’m applying them to GILMORE, presumably a libertarian. His claims were inherently backwards from libertarianism and a bit, IMO, counterfactual and it didn’t, to me, seem clear that he considered them that way.

          Not that this is the reason Reality Winner leaked but I’d call election manufacturers falling for a phishing scheme to fall squarely in the fraud/waste/misconduct category that he indicates to be the ‘OK for public consumption’ hurdle.

          The criticism of “where everything is OK to leak insofar as it doesn’t do ‘obvious’ harm” runs counter to (without apparent caveat) the general libertarian notion that everything the government does can generally be considered between poorly executed and harmful. Again, IMO, the government so long as taxes are collected by force, is guilty until proven innocent. Not that this is always relevant and/or that the ends never justify the means but that again or similarly, the government itself (and agents thereof as agents) doesn’t intrinsically carry a right to the presumption of innocents.

  19. The little commie will have a lot of time to think about what she’s done during10 years of scissoring and fisting in federal women’s prison.

    1. Maybe I wasn’t exactly clear enough in my statements above. It’s not entirely clear that this isn’t a case of ‘feature, not a bug’.

  20. Revealing information designated as secret is illegal, right? I’m okay with prosecuting that.

    Revealing information that shows or documents government malfeasance or breaking the law, even if secret, seems to me to be whistleblower activity and worthy of protection.

    Anyway, that’s where I draw the line.

    1. AGREED!!!

  21. The report damages Trump’s credibility because I assume Trump had access to this intelligence and would know the truth of Russian hacking so that would make Trump a liar for saying Russian hacking was fake news and a fucking traitor for protecting Russia from any consequences for the crimes they committed against the people of America.

    I’ll also point out that Trump leaked classified information. I understand Trump is immune from prosecution for leaking but it doesn’t mean his leak was immune from consequence and I would argue the consequences of his leak were far more damaging to our national security than Reality Winner’s leak.

    1. Posting in between summer classes at the campus coffeehouse?

    2. The report damages Trump’s credibility because I assume Trump had access to this intelligence and would know the truth of Russian hacking so that would make Trump a liar for saying Russian hacking was fake news

      How are unsuccessful hacking attempts for a vendor with no obvious consequences for the current election relevant?

      and a fucking traitor for protecting Russia from any consequences for the crimes they committed against the people of America.

      Even if Russia had hacked US voting machines, what “consequences” do you think there would be?

      I’ll also point out that Trump leaked classified information

      As he is entitled to do.

  22. Does not matter if it should have been top secret or not, IT WAS classified that way and it was illegal for her to leak the info.

    1. It’s not even clear that she was supposed to have access to it.

  23. If saboteurs keep leaking stuff on the Russian investigation, the advantage goes to Russia. Because they’ll get a glimpse of the investigation when classified info is released publicly. Russia now knows that we suspect the GRU of phishing attacks on voter registration software. They’ll either cover tracks or put up a wall of denial, demanding to see evidence of any wrongdoing. If NSA doesn’t have anything more compelling than the much maligned “Grizzly Steppe” report, they’ll be screwed.

    The document posted on the Intercept doesn’t actually have much intelligence. It explains the method of phishing attacks. The media already reported on apparent hacks targeting voter registration last year. Nothing was ever compromised. Chances are this was still an ongoing investigation until a dose of reality spoiled the party.

  24. If she stole and leaked classified information, then I hope they throw the book at her and lock her up for the maximum allowed time period.

  25. On the other hand, it’s worthwhile to question how much of the information from the NSA really should have been kept “top secret.” We can’t assume that whatever decisions officials use to classify information is appropriate

    If it’s an originating document, they’re usually not just pulling the classification out of their ass–they use Security Classification Guides to help them determine the appropriate level. If the document is derived from other sources, the classification is determined by the highest level from among the sources used, e.g., some sources are TS while others are Secret and or/Classified. Also, as you likely know, different parts of the document can have different levels of classification, again, using the SCG to help them determine the level for that portion.

    Not having seen the report itself, I’m not sure which parts that were reported on were classified TS or not. Did the report have an overall TS classification and the leaked info a lower classification level, or was the leaked info considered to be TS?

  26. Should it be?
    Not always – Sometimes they need to be shot!

  27. I think it’s irrelevant how harmful the leak actually was. People who work for the NSA make a commitment not to release secrets, they know the consequences of breaking it, and they should be held accountable if they do.

  28. Given the role of the government bureaucrats in this nonsense — can anybody explain why a conservative should side with the concept of a peaceful transition of power ever again?

    The Left has decided it’s not needed. So why should anybody to the Right of Clinton not agree and view that peaceful transition of power is no longer a good goal and we should, instead, seek to ruin the incoming President with illegal leaks by the truckload?

  29. It was dumb and illegal of her to leak this stuff. She will go to jail. She’s not a hero or a martyr or some sort of a big villain.

    The stuff she leaked is not particularly harmful to U.S. interests. The Russians already know that we know that they are and were trying to influence U.S. elections in any way they could. The only thing the leak does is publicize further that the Russians were trying to influence U.S. elections in any way they could toward their own interests (e.g. destabilizing the democratic process in the U.S., making us look bad, reducing U.S. influence).

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