After National Security Agency (NSA) employee Reality Winner was arrested for leaking material concerning Russia interference during the 2016 election to The Intercept, we learned that Winner was apparently burned by poor operational security on the part of The Intercept and her own clumsiness.
Winner reportedly made copies of documents and The Intercept showed the original copies to officials at the NSA to verify their authenticity. And by examining the copies, the agency was able to follow a trail to Winner.
It may have been widely assumed that The Intercept accidentally burned their source, but a new report from ABC News led me to consider a more disturbing possibility.
According to ABC, Winner leaked the documents to The Intercept, at least in part, because the publication and its dudebro masters refused to believe that Russia interfered in the election and actively downplayed the importance of investigating it.
On March 22, The Intercept hosted a podcast online looking at, among other things, the public outcry over Russia's alleged collusion with associates of President Donald Trump and the Kremlin's alleged interference in last year's presidential election.
Host Jeremy Scahill said "there is a tremendous amount of hysterics" and "a lot of premature conclusions being drawn around all of this Russia stuff," but "there's not a lot of hard evidence to back it up."
Appearing as a guest on the podcast, Intercept reporter Glenn Greenwald agreed, saying that while "it's very possible" Russia was behind election-related hacks last year, "we still haven't seen any evidence for it."
Little more than a week later, Winner allegedly used a Gmail account to contact The Intercept, and she "appeared to request transcripts of a podcast," court documents said.
For those who are unfamiliar, the podcast that allegedly inspired Winner to leak the documents barely scratches the surfaces. The Intercept has been notoriously skeptical of the investigation of Russian interference and Greenwald himself has been very vocal on Twitter where he has condemned the "deep state." And during the 2016 election, the Intercept also embraced the idea that Hillary Clinton was an unrepentant warmonger and that Donald Trump is a dove. The idea that Democrats are pointing fingers at Russia because they want a war with Russia has also been floated.
Now, they may not have intentionally burned their source (Winner), but I do find myself asking if they practiced poor operational security and inadvertently burned their source because they simply didn't care enough. Maybe they got lazy. Maybe they didn't believe the documents were real.
The other possibility is they did so intentionally because they don't want to accept the idea that Hillary Clinton would have won if not for unprecedented third party influences.
For whatever reason, and through whatever means, they burned a source at the NSA. They may not have known their source actually worked at the NSA, but this is the same NSA that you might say is the only reason The Intercept exists. The only reason a billionaire handed their money over to Greenwald and his Intercept colleagues is because infamous NSA leaker and traitor Edward Snowden fled to Russia and handed a trove of documents to Greenwald.
And that makes this especially perplexing, doesn't it? Why weren't they more careful when dealing with the diabolical NSA? Why did they show original copies to the NSA? Why didn't they assume the worst just as they unquestionably report the worst?
Regardless of what you believe or what the truth of the matter is, this is a bad look for The Intercept.
I personally did not have a strong opinion about Reality Winner's character, actions or motivations, but as naive as her actions may have been, I can appreciate that she apparently tried to convince Dudebro Central that Russian interference is not a conspiracy theory; it actually happened.