Did The Intercept Fail Reality Winner
It’s tempting to believe so.
How does any whistleblower trust them after this?
— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) June 7, 2017
It certainly sent a chill down the spine of national security reporters.
From my story:
"I think that the unknown for us, as national security reporters, is: What are they willing to do?" https://t.co/4esxYhBb5M
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) June 7, 2017
Getting your source arrested the day the story comes out?
For anyone who wants to leak without getting arrested, I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) June 6, 2017
The NY Mag has an important post about this:
“Did the Intercept Betray Its NSA Source?”
“The Intercept, for obvious reasons, is saying very little. A statement posted to the site describes the claims made in the government search affidavit and the criminal complaint as “unproven assertions and speculation designed to serve the government’s agenda and as such warrant skepticism.” Naturally, any specific details revealed by the publication could be used to build a case against its sources.”
“The understandable silence from the Intercept, combined with the fragmented details provided by the court documents, has led to a significant amount of back and forth on Twitter on how much culpability the Intercept has in Winner’s arrest — whether the Intercept’s bad “opsec” led to the government charging Winner, or if Winner’s own missteps led to her arrest. The discussion is more than just a journalistic pissing match: Not only does the site’s reputation as a safe place for anonymous leaks hang in the balance, but journalists and their sources at all publications are nervous about the capabilities of a Trump administration that has declared war on leakers everywhere.”
NY Mag then goes through the FBI’s own affidavit piece by piece.
1. She had contacted The Intercept March 29-though nothing of substance was discussed.
2. In trying to verify the documents The Intercept asked someone at NSA about it and mentioned her address.
“The second is that on May 24, a reporter from the Intercept reached out to an unnamed government contractor, trying to determine the validity of the leak. During the exchange, the Intercept revealed that the leak had been mailed with a postmark of Augusta, Georgia, where Winner lives. (Checking with other sources about the validity of a leak is not necessarily bad opsec; revealing specific information about the leak almost certainly is — though it’s also probably more common than journalists would like to admit.) The contractor told the Intercept that they believed the leak to be fake; when the Intercept returned on June 1, saying that the leak’s authenticity had been confirmed, the original anonymous government contractor turned around and alerted the NSA to the matter — including the key detail that the document had been mailed from Augusta.”
As for the debate over showing the NSA the document:
“The problem with apportioning blame in this case is that we don’t know if the Intercept handed over to the NSA the original copy of the report that they’d received — which would have been a grave security error — or if it was a photocopy or reprint that nonetheless betrayed some evidence.”
“And it’s important to note that the FBI and NSA didn’t need to know that the pages had even been printed. All material classified “top secret” (the highest security rating a document can receive) are stored in a massive government intranet known as the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, or JWICS. As detailed by New York Magazine contributer Yashar Ali on Twitter, this system logs everyone who accesses top secret documents, as well as what they do with them. Even if the Intercept had verified the document without alerting the NSA, and then paraphrased the entire report, after it published its story, the government would have quickly moved to determine who had accessed the document — and Winner would have, eventually, come under the same scrutiny.”
Finally, though, they get to some conclusions:
“Nonetheless, it’s clear that there were serious mistakes made by both the Intercept and its leaker. It’s quite reasonable for the Intercept to seek confirmation that the document in question was real with third-party sources, and eventually the NSA. But revealing the Augusta, Georgia, postmark to the third-party source clearly helped the government build its case. Providing a copy of the report seems to have, in some way, added to the government’s pile of evidence. And the decision to publish the PDF with the tracker dots unobscured — especially considering the Intercept likely had no knowledge that Winner was the leaker, and she was already in custody — is a baffling unforced error from a site that hinges on being a secure place to send documents.”
“Assuming Winner is the leaker, too, she made a mistake in contacting the Intercept at work — though given that it happened months before she allegedly sent the report, it’s hard to blame her. Still, Winner, as a contractor for the NSA and an Air Force veteran with top secret clearance, would have known as well as anyone that her traffic would be logged, and would also likely have known that accessing top secret documents — even without printing them out — would have thrown up red flags in the aftermath of a leak.”
“It’s worth reiterating that the FBI has a strong incentive to cast the Intercept as incompetent handlers of sources. There’s a decent chance that the case was built against Winner in a completely different way — one that didn’t rely on mistakes by the journalists at all — and this particular parallel construction of the case is being put forward to cast aspersions on one of the most notorious investigative outfits online. But there’s no escaping that the mistakes made by the Intercept and Winner — small as they may have been — were enough to get a search warrant and indictment signed. If there’s any consolation for leakers and the journalists they rely on, it’s that the affidavit provides an object lesson in protecting sources.”
Certainly something to chew on. The irony is that while Reality Winner may be going to prison, her heroic leak may be the first of many shots across the bough against the false narrative that we know for a fact the election result wasn’t altered.
What you’re hearing now is that ‘There’s still no proof it changed the actual result.’
But lacking absolute, smoking gun, direct evidence is not enough.
“It’s not just that [an election] has to be fair, it has to be demonstrably fair, so that the loser says, ‘Yep, I lost fair and square.’ If you can’t do that, you’re screwed,” said Schneier. “They’ll tear themselves apart if they’re convinced it’s not accurate.”
P.S. As we saw in my poll out last week, the long awaited poll results are in, and right now I’m just 11 points down vs. Peter King (GOP-NY-District 2). And the voters don’t even know who I am yet.
There is nothing more important in getting answers to Trump-Russia collusion than a Democratic House in 2019. Please donate to help me in my part of the effort to fight for a Dem House.
Thank you. We must have a Dem House. And so, we will.