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Feds Arrest NSA Contractor in Leak of Top Secret Russia Document

Reality Leigh Winner's arrest was announced soon after the Intercept published a story based on a document about Russian attempts to breach U.S. voting systems.
Image: Reality Winner Poses in a Photo Posted to her Instagram Account
Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor charged by the U.S. Department of Justice for sending classified material to a news organization, poses in a picture posted to her Instagram account.Instagram / via Reuters

Barely an hour after a news organization published an article about a top-secret National Security Agency document on Russian hacking, the Justice Department announced charges against a 25-year-old government contractor who a senior federal official says was the leaker of the document.

The May 5, 2017, intelligence document published by The Intercept, an online news organization, describes new details about Russian efforts to hack voting systems in the U.S. a week prior to the 2016 presidential election. While the document doesn’t say the hacking changed any votes, it "raises the possibility that Russian hacking may have breached at least some elements of the voting system, with disconcertingly uncertain results."

Even as the document was ricocheting around Washington, the Justice Department announced that a criminal complaint was filed in the Southern District of Georgia, charging Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a federal contractor, with removing classified material from a government facility and mailing it to a news outlet.

The complaint did not link the charges with the story, but a senior federal official confirmed to NBC News that Winner is the accused leaker of the document published by the Intercept. The NSA has a large facility in Georgia.

The complaint says she admitted to printing out the document and mailing it to the news outlet.

It adds that the government found evidence that Winner "had email contact" with the news outlet, and that Winner was one of just six individuals who had viewed the intelligence reporting since the U.S. government published it internally.

Related: NSA Leak Mystery Not Solved With Arrest of Hal Martin

She was arrested by the FBI at her home Saturday, according to a senior federal official. She faces a single charge of "gathering, transmitting or losing defense information."

Winner is a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation, authorities said. She had been employed at the facility since on or about February 13, and held a Top Secret clearance.

Her attorney, Titus Thomas Nichols, told NBC News that his client is "looking forward to putting this behind her," and has no prior criminal history.