- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2017

WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange rushed to defend Reality Winner, a 25-year-old government contractor arrested over the weekend for allegedly leaking top-secret National Security Agency documents to an online media outlet.

“Alleged NSA whistleblower Reality Leigh Winner must be supported,” Mr. Assange said in a tweet Monday accompanied by a picture of Ms. Winner. “She is a young woman accused of courage in trying to help us know.

“It doesn’t matter why she did it or the quality [of] the report,” Mr. Assange wrote in a separate tweet. “Acts of non-elite sources communicating knowledge should be strongly encouraged.”

The Justice Department said in a statement earlier Monday that Ms. Winner, a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation, was arrested by the FBI at her home Saturday in Augusta, Georgia, and subsequently charged with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to an unidentified, internet-based media outlet.

Multiple reports have since identified Ms. Winner as the suspected source of a NSA document published by The Intercept on Monday moments before the government announced her arrest, the likes of which the website touted as “the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light.”

“Although we have no knowledge of the identity of the person who provided us with the document, the U.S. government has told news organizations that Winner was that individual,” The Intercept said in a statement Tuesday.

The government’s case against Ms. Winner marks the Trump administration’s first formal attempt toward prosecuting intelligence leaks amid a stream of unauthorized disclosures, but it is hardly the only federal leaking case conducted by the Justice Department as of late. Indeed, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in April that the Justice Department has rekindled an Obama-era federal probe against WikiLeaks and is readying charges against Mr. Assange in connection with the website’s publications predating President Trump’s tenure in office.

Though not formally charged, Mr. Assange, 45, risks being indicted for publishing documents supplied by Army Private Chelsea Manning in 2010, including a cache of classified State and Defense Department materials. Manning, 29, was court-martialed, convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison for her role in those leaks, but the bulk of her sentence was commuted by Mr. Obama in January.

WikiLeaks separately drew fire during the 2016 U.S. presidential race for publishing documents detrimental to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The U.S. intelligence community has since concluded those files were obtained after Russian state-sponsored hackers compromised the Clinton campaign and similar targets before ultimately feeding stolen documents to WikiLeaks during the same interference campaign detailed in the NSA document published by The Intercept on Monday.

Ms. Winner had her initial appearance Monday in Augusta federal court and is scheduled to appear for a detention hearing Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Epps, CNN reported. She faces up to 10 years behind bars if convicted of transmitting national defense documents without authorization.

Ms. Winner reportedly confessed to mishandling the NSA document when interviewed by authorities on Saturday, according to the Justice Department. She is “looking forward to putting this behind her,” her attorney Titus Thomas Nichols told NBC News.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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