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‘Intercept’ leaker arrest resulted from a search warrant for podcast transcripts — not classified documents

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Reality Winner, the U.S. government contractor arrested Monday for leaking top secret information to The Intercept, was picked up after a federal judge authorized a search warrant based on a request for a podcast transcript she had sent to media organization.

The search warrant application, filed on June 3, details the probable cause put forth by special agent Justin C. Garrick to investigate Winner’s home and car for documents related to the NSA leak. That leak contained evidence the Russian military “executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier,” and was published by The Intercept on Monday.

According to the application, the FBI was alerted to the dissemination of classified information after a reporter for The Intercept contacted a separate contractor for the U.S. Government, asking to verify the authenticity of the leak. Included in the reporter’s request was information related to the leaker’s location (Augusta, Georgia), and a photo of the document, which the contractor then forwarded to the FBI. In its application, the FBI maintains a “crease” in the document led the government to realize only one of six people had accessed the documents.

As reporter Max Read points out, the FBI’s assertion that a “crease” in the document led investigators to Winner is a “dirty trick,” adding it’s “a good way to sow doubt about The Intercept’s “ability to handle sources).

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When the FBI ran an audit of Winner’s computer, it discovered she was the only one of six in contact with The Intercept. Per the affidavit, in one communication, Winner “requested transcripts of a podcast,” in another, The Intercept sent Winner a confirmation e-mail that she successfully subscribed to the service.

“Evidence of communications between Winner and the News Outlet [The Intercept], among other items of evidentiary value, all be found on [her] electronic devices,” the search warrant application reads.

Winner is charged with removing classified material from a government facility and submitting it to a news outlet. She faces prosecution under the Espionage Act.

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In a statement Monday, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein praised the “exceptional law enforcement efforts” that allowed the FBI to “quickly to identify and arrest the defendant.”

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

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