Another name was added to the list of high-profile leakers in June when the Justice Department announced it had charged a 25-year-old federal contractor with removing classified material from a government facility and giving it to a media outlet.
The National Security Agency document that Reality Leigh Winner, of Augusta, Ga., gave to the media was about Russian hacking, according to NBC News.
The document provided details about Russian efforts to hack into voting systems throughout the U.S. the week prior to the 2016 presidential election, NBC News stated. The document “raises the possibility that Russian hacking may have breached at least some elements of the voting system, with disconcertingly uncertain results.”
Winner is an Air Force veteran who held a top-secret security clearance and worked for Pluribus International Corporation, a company that provides analytical, operational, engineering, and program management support services to federal government agencies, according to its website. She began working at the government facility from where she took the document on Feb. 13, according to the arrest affidavit.
Investigators determined that six individuals had accessed and printed the document, and Winner was among them. They discovered during an email audit that she had been in communication with The Intercept, the online media outlet who published an article based on the classified document.
Prior to going to work for the contractor, Winner served six years as an Air Force linguist. She speaks Pashto, Farsi and Dari, according to CNN.
The news of a 25-year-old having a top-secret clearance has seemed to surprise some. The truth is, about 1.4 million people have clearance at the top-secret level, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. About 2.9 million people hold a confidential or secret clearance.
The issue that Winner’s arrest highlights isn’t her age, current and former intelligence officials recently told NBC News, but the “cultural shift that has led a small but growing subset of spy agency employees to break the ultimate organizational taboo, and share secrets with the public and the news media.”
Winner is grouped in with Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, as a “new class of rogue employee,” according to the NBC story. They are people who decided certain government secrets needed to be known by the public, and took it upon themselves to share those secrets with media outlets.
Regardless of their belief in the public’s right to know, these leaks violate federal law, says security clearance attorney Catie Young.
Leaking information can cause the government to question a clearance holder’s allegiance to the U.S.
“It is of monumental importance that those with security clearance are diligent about protecting the information with which they come in contact,” Young says. “The law does not give them permission to release information just because they want to do so.”
There is speculation that in today’s social media-saturated world where people share everything from what they ate for lunch to where they vacation and who they hang out with, there is a generation of young professionals who no longer feel the weight of the importance of guarding sensitive information.
If you hold a security clearance, understand that guarding sensitive information is job No. 1 for you. Your career and potentially your freedom depend on it.
If you have been accused of violating your security clearance, hire an attorney who specializes in this unique area of law to assist in your case.