Long having built its reputation on reports derived from classified information provided to them by leakers, The Intercept now finds itself in the unpleasant position of having burned – or outed – one of its anonymous sources.
The leaker, Reality Leigh Winner, allegedly gave The Intercept classified NSA documents pertaining to an investigation of Russian military intelligence hacking within the U.S. and now faces years in prison under the Espionage Act. While outing Winner could have been the result of negligence, the FBI affidavit explaining why the bureau arrested Winner shows it went beyond mere negligence.
According toFBI documents, a reporter at the papersent the leaked documents to a contractor working for the National Security Agency (NSA) – the very agency they had been taken from – a full week before The Intercept published the story. The alleged intention was to let the NSA itself verify the documents, an unusual move for a news outlet thatwas originally intended to have exclusive publication rights over the Snowden leaks that exposed NSA surveillance. Upon being contacted, the NSA asked that The Intercept redact parts of the document and The Intercept complied with some of those requests.
The FBI warrant also notes that the reporter in question – who is unnamed in the document – contacted a government contractor with whom he had a prior relationship and revealed where the documents had been postmarked from – Winner’s home of Augusta, Georgia – along with Winner’s work location. He also sent unedited images of the documents that contained security markings that allowed the document to be traced to Winner.
While the reporter’s identity remains unknown, the published report has four authors – two of whom have been known to burn sources before.