Wikileaks offers 10K reward for information that would get Intercept reporter fired
The hacker group WikiLeaks announced an offer of $10,000 for information that leads to the firing of the reporter for the website The Intercept who used stolen NSA documents in a story about Russian military intelligence hacking the U.S. election. The group claims that the reporter did not attempt to hide the identity of Reality Winner, the woman who worked for a government contractor who stole the files and mailed them to The Intercept.
Investigators were able to find Winner in part, according to a government court filings, because of clues gained when an Intercept reporter showed the leaked report to the government.
WikiLeaks tweeted late Monday night it would pay a $10,000 bounty "for information leading to the public exposure & termination of [the] 'reporter'" who asked an government agency to verify a leaked report without removing possibly incriminating evidence about its leaker.
It's not clear which reporter purportedly showed the document to the government – and thus, who the WikiLeaks bounty would target. Four reporters have bylines on The Intercept story.
Reporters typically have the authors of leaked documents authenticate them and comment on their significance. Without authenticating documents, more fabrications would slip through.
According to the Justice Department affidavit, the reporter showed an Augusta, Ga.-based intelligence contracting company leaked documents he had received postmarked from Augusta, believing that firm might have been the source. The documents were also provided to a federal agency, which contacted the FBI. Evidence from the documents was used to identify Winner as the leaker, according to an FBI affidavit filed with the charges, and Winner subsequently confessed.
It is unclear if anything the reporter could have done would have prevented Winner from getting caught.
According to the report, "the U.S. Government Agency determined that six individuals printed this reporting. Winner was one of these six individuals. A further audit of the six individuals' desk computers revealed that Winner had e-mail contact with the News Outlet. The audit did not reveal that any of the other individuals had e-mail contact with the News Outlet."
Reality Winner was caught because she was stupid, not because of anything the reporter(s) did or didn't do. She didn't try to hide or scrub anything – including her contacts with The Intercept.
Whoever gave the documents to the NSA for verification was only performing due diligence in making sure Winner or someone else didn't manufacture the documents and that they were authentic. The media outlet can't be prosecuted for publishing the documents even if they were stolen thanks to First Amendment protections. But Winner is going to go to jail for a very long time. The NSA insists on prosecuting leakers of its secrets to the fullest extent of the law.
Was there some way that The Intercept could have hidden Winner's identity? It appears that Winner was such an incompetent amateur that there was no way for the publication to hide her involvement if it wanted the documents authenticated.
WikiLeaks is shamelessly trying to horn in on The Intercept's scoop by offering this reward. WikiLeaks knows full well that no reporter at the publication is going to be fired for writing this story. It's more likely he will get a promotion. But when it comes to self-promotion, WikiLeaks takes a back seat to no one.