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What We Know About Reality Winner, Government Contractor Accused Of NSA Leak

Reality Leigh Winner, 25, has been accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of sending classified material to a news organization.
Via Reuters
Reality Leigh Winner, 25, has been accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of sending classified material to a news organization.

Updated at 1:40 p.m. ET

A few days ago, based on her apparent Instagram account, Reality Winner was prepping vegan meals and thinking about her weightlifting goals. Now she's in jail, awaiting prosecution on charges of mishandling classified information.

Winner is the first person accused of leaking classified information to be charged with a crime under the Trump administration. The 25-year-old National Security Agency contractor, who is also an Air Force veteran, is accused of orchestrating the latest bombshell leak from the NSA.

Winner, who was working in the Georgia office of contractor Pluribus International, allegedly printed out a top-secret document last month and mailed it to an online news outlet, which was not named in court documents.

However, The Intercept broke a story Monday with details on Russian attempts to penetrate U.S. election systems.

At roughly the same time, the Justice Department announced that it has charged Winner with mishandling classified information on national defense. She was arrested Saturday at her home in Augusta, Ga., but the case was not announced until Monday.

Winner spent several years in the Air Force before leaving last year, according to her social media accounts. She began working with Pluribus in February and had "top-secret" clearance, according an affidavit from the Justice Department. It said she printed and removed the document on or about May 9 and passed it on to a news outlet.

Pluribus says on its website that it works with the defense, security and intelligence community sectors and offers a range of services, including translation in languages such as Farsi and Pashto.

Winner's mother, Billie Winner-Davis, said in a CNN report that her daughter was a linguist with the Air Force in Maryland and speaks Pashto, Farsi and Dari — languages widely spoken in Iran and Afghanistan.

Investigations into national security matters can often drag on for months or even longer. But in the affidavit, the FBI said it began investigating just last Thursday — after a news outlet contacted the government saying it had received the document anonymously and was working on a story.

The Intercept has provided a similar account. Ryan Grim, one of reporters who wrote the story, told NPR's Morning Edition that the news site received the document from an unknown sender.

He described the document as "an NSA analysis of Russian efforts to tamper" with the election.

Winner-Davis told The Daily Beast that she spoke with her daughter on Sunday evening — the day after she was arrested — but they apparently did not discuss details of the case.

"She called us (Sunday) night. She asked if we could help out with relocating her cat and dog," Winner-Davis said.

Winner-Davis said she was not aware of the details of her daughter's work or the charges against her.

"I don't know what they're alleging," she said.

Winner-Davis described her daughter as "passionate" about her beliefs.

An Instagram account that appears to belong to Winner — it has a photo of Winner in uniform with her last name clearly visible — is almost entirely nonpolitical. The photos on @reezlieare dedicated to Winner's love for CrossFit, yoga, vegetarian food and her pets, with rare references to listening to Ron Paul's podcast or supporting protesters at Standing Rock fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

On Inauguration Day, the account posted about crispy tempeh, her 5-mile run and her workout.

A Twitter account with the same username, by contrast, is almost entirely political. The account of "Sara Winners" began on June 2015 but doesn't show any posts until October 2016. The account, which has a profile picture that appears to be Reality Winner, swiftly began tweeting and retweeting criticism of then-candidate Donald Trump, along with support for Standing Rock and updates on the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

"I'd literally eat the original constitution if that would mean #FourMoreYears" of the Obama presidency, @reezlie wrote on Nov. 5.

On election night, the user wrote that "people suck." After Trump's election, the Twitter account doubled down on sharing mockery and outrage of the incoming president. The user repeatedly used the hashtag "#notmypresident," along with one much more expletive-laden denunciation.

The account "liked" tweets by Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks and so-called "rogue" government accounts, as well as various journalists and politicians.

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Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.