Everybody is asking the wrong questions about Reality Winner and the NSA leak

(TFC) – The media is buzzing about why Reality Winner leaked the Top Secret documents to the Intercept. The media occasionally touches on the content of the leak, but mainly is concerned with how she was caught, and why such a poster child for the United States would betray her masters. None of these questions really matter when the overriding question has yet to be answered. Why was this document classified to begin with?

The five-page document details some interesting happenings related to possible Russian interference with the election in the United States. That’s hardly a national secret. It’s relatively common knowledge the Russians attempted to interfere in the US election and it is assumed it was to secure a Trump victory. For those who have been living under a rock for the last 60 years: every major power attempts to influence the elections in every other country in the world. The United States is the undisputed champion at this particular form of international intrigue. It should be no surprise other nations attempt to do the same here.

There are no source names in the document. There is no damage to means and methods of collection. There is no unique technical data. Other than the inclusion of a few bogus email accounts, the document is a dry well. What exactly made this document Top Secret? This is the real question.

There are two possible answers:

  1. The National Security Agency is aware the Russian government was successful in its attempt to rig the US election and the country is currently led by an illegitimate President. If this is the case, the NSA may have classified all documents related to the successful breach of the US election process. The NSA could have done this out of the seemingly altruistic motive of protecting the institution of the Presidency, but more than likely this cover up would have been self-serving. If the NSA could not secure the elections, it is a worthless agency with a bloated budget. If the election was rigged, the American citizen cannot count on the NSA to reveal it. If the NSA failed to protect the basic democratic functions of state, what good is it?
  2. The other option is a far less conspiratorial alternative. The NSA has taken to classifying everything. The secretive nature of the agency has led it to engage in a culture of deception in which it allows nothing out. While less conspiratorial, it is far more dangerous to the United States. It turns the NSA into a secret police force. If this is the case, the NSA is effectively a rogue agency, answering to no governing oversight. A genuine threat to democracy was discovered, and the NSA did not inform the American people due to a security culture that only seeks to protect itself.

While we don’t have a copy of the NSA’s classification process, that too is probably secret, we do have a copy of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency’s process and restrictions. Maps and imagery are high-value targets in the world of espionage so the regulations should be very close. These rules should truly be identical. They are outlined by Executive Order, but maybe the NSA is once again playing by its own rules. Here are the guidelines:


The information was released. What damage was caused to the national security of the United States? Can anybody identify or describe the damage? If not, the document should have never been classified. Taking it a step further, the documents were designated as Top Secret. It should be noted that Executive Order 12958 specifies when that particular designation may be used.

    (1) “Top Secret” shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe.

This unauthorized disclosure should be causing exceptionally grave damage to national security. Is it?

The only way the information released could possibly cause “exceptionally grave damage” is if it disclosed the person occupying the Oval Office obtained the position through a foreign power’s espionage activities.

The NSA has a choice. Either tell the world why these documents were so highly classified, or release Reality Winner.