As It Happens

Ex-CIA whistleblower blasts reporters for not protecting alleged NSA leaker Reality Winner

CIA officer-turned-whistleblower John Kiriakou says reporters at The Intercept news site should have done a better job protecting the identity of accused National Security Agency leaker Reality Winner.
Former CIA officer John Kiriakou says The Intercept should have better protected the source of a leaked NSA document it reported on. (Cliff Owen/Associated Press)

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CIA officer-turned-whistleblower John Kiriakou says reporters at The Intercept news site should have done a better job protecting the identity of accused National Security Agency leaker Reality Winner.

"The Intercept should be ashamed of itself because it did nothing to protect its source," Kiriakou told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

The Intercept published a story on Monday about a leaked NSA report that suggests Russian hackers attacked at least one U.S. voting software supplier days before last year's presidential election.

Shortly after, the U.S. Justice Department announced it was charging Winner, a 25-year-old federal contractor in Georgia, with leaking a classified report containing "Top Secret level" information to an online news organization.

The report the contractor allegedly leaked is dated May 5, as is the document The Intercept posted online

The Intercept has issued a statement saying the report was provided to them "completely anonymously."

"While the FBI's allegations against Winner have been made public through the release of an affidavit and search warrant, which were unsealed at the government's request, it is important to keep in mind that these documents contain unproven assertions and speculation designed to serve the government's agenda and as such warrant skepticism," the news webite said.

"We take this matter with the utmost seriousness. However, because of the continued investigation, we will make no further comment on it at this time."

But Kirakou and other security experts have said that by sharing images of the printed leaked document, the reporters may have inadvertently led authorities straight to Winner.

That's because of nearly invisible yellow dots on the document, a common feature in modern printers, that allows you to trace a document to a specific model of printer. 

In affidavits filed with the court, an FBI investigator said the government was notified of the leaked report by the news outlet that received it, and then determined only six employees had made physical copies of the report. Winner, it alleges, was one of them. 

The affidavits also indicate that an unnamed reporter shared the images with another unnamed federal contractor in order to confirm the document's authenticity.

"I mean, this is journalism 101," Kirakou said. "They would have known that NSA marks its documents and regardless of who this source was, whether this source was known to the reporters or not, the source would then be identifiable to NSA, and indeed she was."

An aerial view of the National Security Agency headquarters in Ft. Meade, Md. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Winner's attorney, Titus Thomas Nichols, declined to confirm whether she is accused of leaking the NSA report received by The Intercept.

He also declined to name the federal agency for which Winner worked, saying only that she is a "very good person" with no criminal history..

But Kiriakou is not hopeful for her future.

"I really do think she's going to go to prison. I hate to say it. I think it's a terrible, terrible thing. She's 25 years old," Kiriakou said. "I don't mean to sound hyperbolic, but her life is ruined."

Kiriakou first made headlines in 2007 for exposing the U.S. practice of waterboarding al-Qaeda suspects.

He later spent two years in prison for disclosing the identity of a fellow CIA officer to then-freelance journalist Matthew Cole, one of four authors of Monday's Intercept report. While Cole did not publish the name, his email exchange with Kiriakou was used as evidence against him.

Despite this, Kiriakou still believes in the value of whistleblowing.

"Some things are in the public interest," he said. "Some things have to be revealed for the public good."

But he has one piece of advice for anyone thinking of speaking out. 

"Speak to an attorney first," he said. "Speak to an attorney before you blow the whistle."

With files from Associated Press


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