U.S. charges three North Koreans in $1.3 billion hacking spree

By Sarah N. Lynch, Raphael Satter and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has charged three North Korean computer programmers with a massive hacking spree aimed at stealing more than $1.3 billion in money and cryptocurrency, affecting companies from banks to Hollywood movie studios, the Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

The indictment alleges that Jon Chang Hyok, 31, Kim Il, 27, and Park Jin Hyok, 36, stole money while working for North Korea’s military intelligence services. Park had previously been charged in a complaint unsealed in 2018.

The Justice Department said the hackers were responsible for a wide range of criminal activity and high-profile intrusions, including a retaliatory 2014 attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment for producing “The Interview” movie, which depicted the assassination of North Korea’s leader.

The group is alleged to have targeted staff of AMC Theaters and broken into computers belonging to Mammoth Screen, a U.K. film company that was working on a drama series about North Korea.

The Justice Department also alleged that the trio participated in the creation of the destructive WannaCry 2.0 ransomware – which hit Britain’s National Health Service hard when it was set loose in 2017.

The indictment pins the blame on the hackers for breaking into banks across South and Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Africa by penetrating the financial institutions’ networks and abusing the SWIFT protocol to steal money. They’re also alleged to have deployed malicious applications from March 2018 through September 2020 to target cryptocurrency users.

The overall amount of money stolen by the hackers is not clear because in some cases the thefts were either halted or reversed. But the figures are significant. In one 2016 heist alone – at the Bangladesh Bank – the hackers are alleged to have made off with $81 million.

“North Korea’s operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world’s leading 21st century nation-state bank robbers,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Demers told a news briefing.

Kristi Johnson, the FBI assistant director in charge for the Los Angeles Field Office, told reporters that the three alleged hackers were believed to be in North Korea. Officials alleged they had been stationed at times in various other countries, including China and Russia.

The North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment and contact details for the trio could not immediately be found. The Chinese and Russian embassies in Washington also did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Overall, North Korea has generated an estimated $2 billion using “widespread and increasingly sophisticated” digital intrusions at banks and cryptocurrency exchanges, according to a U.N. report in 2019 by independent experts monitoring international sanctions on Pyongyang.

“According to one member state, the DPRK total theft of virtual assets, from 2019 to November 2020” was approximately $316.4 million, the report said.

Officials said on Wednesday that Ghaleb Alaumary, a Canadian-American citizen, has separately pleaded guilty to laundering some of the alleged hackers’ money. Requests for comment sent to Alaumary’s lawyers were not immediately returned.

Alaumary is slated to be sentenced in June in a federal court in Georgia.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Raphael Satter and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Trump declines to say if he still has confidence in Attorney General Barr

By Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday declined to say whether he still had confidence in U.S. Attorney General William Barr after the Department of Justice chief this week said there was no sign of major fraud in last month’s presidential election.

Barr told the Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday the department found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. But Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said Barr had not searched for any evidence.

“Well he hasn’t done anything. So, he hasn’t looked,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “They haven’t looked very hard, which is a disappointment to be honest with you, because it’s massive fraud.”

Trump’s legal team has accused Barr of failing to conduct a proper inquiry or audit voting machines, a task that does not fall to the Justice Department during an election.

Barr told the AP there had been confusion over the department’s role in U.S. elections, and that civil lawsuits like those being pursued by Trump’s campaign were the appropriate legal venue.

Asked if he still had confidence in Barr, Trump said: “Ask me that in a number of weeks from now. They should be looking at all of this fraud. This is not civil, he thought it was civil. This is not civil, this is criminal stuff. This is very bad criminal stuff.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the president’s remarks.

“We found far more votes than we need in almost all of these states. And I think I can say in all of these states, far more votes than we need to win every one of them,” Trump said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Steve Holland and Susan Heavey; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Biden’s possible attorney general pick has moderate track record: progressive critics

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to end the federal death penalty and eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, but some progressives say a potential pick for attorney general to carry out those reforms may not be the one to enact bold changes.

Sally Yates, 60, is a leading candidate for the job, according to sources. The Atlanta native is perhaps best known for being fired from her position as acting attorney general by Republican President Donald Trump in his first month in office when she refused to enforce his first attempt at banning travelers from Muslim-majority nations.

Her history at the Department of Justice (DOJ) – where Democratic President Barack Obama appointed her as deputy attorney general in 2015, and before that as Atlanta’s top federal prosecutor for about five years – make the adviser to the Biden transition team a safe pick for a role subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate, which may still be under Republican control next year.

Asked for comment, a Yates spokeswoman provided a lengthy list of opinion articles, testimony and other records she said demonstrate Yates’ strong commitment to criminal justice reform.

A Biden transition team spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Yates has expressed a measured approach on some criminal justice reforms, including previously voicing some support for the mandatory minimum sentences Biden wants to end – a position some progressives worry may not go far enough at a time of reckoning for the criminal justice system.

“She has done courageous things, but she is a career prosecutor,” said Rachel Barkow, a New York University law professor who previously served on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets federal sentencing guidelines.

“The question will be, if Sally Yates comes in a second time, does she do a better job reading the moment or is she still coming with that DOJ insider lens?”

The United States was rocked by a fresh wave of street protests this year over the killings of Black men and women by police, including George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

CONFRONTING RACIAL INJUSTICE

That has led Democrats, including Biden to rethink policies, including mandatory minimum sentences, that have led to the disproportionate incarceration of African-American men. Biden has also expressed support for approving more clemency petitions from nonviolent offenders.

Yates, during her 2015 confirmation hearing for deputy attorney general, called mandatory minimum sentences “an important tool for prosecutors,” which could nevertheless be used more judiciously due to the “fiscal reality” facing U.S. prisons.

While she was U.S. attorney in Atlanta, her office also sought the death penalty in some cases, and she testified on the Justice Department’s behalf to urge the U.S. Sentencing Commission to narrowly limit who could qualify to apply retroactively for a drug sentence reduction.

She was also involved in a controversy surrounding a 2014 clemency project, after Pardon Attorney Deborah Leff resigned in protest due to a backlog of 1,000 recommendations sitting in Yates’ office, 100 of which were urging clemency be granted.

In her January 2016 resignation letter, Leff said Yates had blocked her access to the White House, including on cases where Yates had reversed Leff’s clemency determinations. Yates’ defenders say she was passionate about clemency, and personally reviewed every petition herself.

Some former colleagues say Yates deserves credit for important work that began during the Obama administration, much of which has since largely been undone during Trump’s term.

Yates spearheaded efforts to scale back the federal government’s use of private prisons, revamped the Bureau of Prisons’ education program to better prepare inmates for release and urged limits on solitary confinement.

She also persuaded Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder to expand on his new policy scaling back the use of mandatory minimums and later publicly rebuked Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, after he reversed these policies in 2017.

“Somebody like Sally is very attuned to what has been happening in the country after George Floyd’s murder,” said Vanita Gupta, who headed the DOJ’s civil rights division during Yates’ tenure and now heads the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human rights. “She is very personally committed to civil rights and criminal justice reform, and I would fully expect that commitment would actually only deepen.”

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Judge rules U.S. government’s lethal injections break law, halts execution

By Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely

(Reuters) – A U.S. District Court judge in Washington ruled on Thursday that the Justice Department’s new lethal injection protocol violated drug safety laws and ordered a planned execution for Friday to be halted.

Since resuming federal executions after a 17-year hiatus in July, the Department of Justice has been injecting condemned inmates with lethal doses of pentobarbital, a highly regulated barbiturate. The department executed three murderers in July and a fourth on Thursday and had planned to execute Keith Nelson on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled that the department was breaking the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) by administering the pentobarbital without a medical practitioner’s prescription, agreeing with death row inmates who sued the government.

“Where the government argues that a lethal injection drug is legally and constitutionally permissible because it will ensure a ‘humane’ death, it cannot then disclaim a responsibility to comply with federal statutes enacted to ensure that the drugs operate humanely,” Chutkan wrote in a 13-page opinion.

Because pharmaceutical companies refuse to sell pentobarbital for use in executions, the Justice Department has said it is instead paying a pharmacist in secret to mix up small batches of the drug.

Chutkan ruled that this also violated the FDCA, which forbids pharmacists from making copies of drugs already available on the market after having received safety approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Justice Department lawyers immediately asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn Chutkan’s ruling.

That court has previously ruled that execution drugs are at least partly governed by drug safety laws. In 2013, it upheld an order, which continues to bind the FDA, that stopped imports of sodium thiopental that were headed to state execution chambers.

Prior to July, there had been only three federal executions since 1963, all between 2001 and 2003, all using sodium thiopental. As supplies of that drug vanished, Texas, Missouri and other states that use capital punishment switched to using pentobarbital, and the Justice Department announced last year it would follow suit.

Chutkan ruled that Nelson’s execution by lethal injection could proceed if the Justice Department avoided copying FDA-approved drugs and had a physician-issued prescription in the condemned prisoner’s name. The American Medical Association and other clinicians’ groups have said enabling an execution is against medical ethics.

The Justice Department has said it is necessary to promise secrecy to its pentobarbital suppliers. Soon after President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the department spent two years building a small network of companies to make and test the drug, a Reuters investigation found.

Nelson, convicted of raping and murdering 10-year-old Pamela Butler in Kansas in 1999, is one of 16 inmates on federal death row who sued the Justice Department over its lethal injection protocol.

Chutkan issued orders blocking the inmates’ executions while the litigation continued, which were swiftly overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, and three of the plaintiffs have since been executed by the defendants.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Toby Chopra and Bernadette Baum)

New York coroner ‘confident’ Epstein’s death was suicide: New York Times

An exterior view of the Metropolitan Correctional Center jail where financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

(Reuters) – New York City’s chief medical examiner is confident Jeffrey Epstein died by hanging himself in the jail cell where he was being held without bail on sex-trafficking charges, but is awaiting more information before releasing her determination, the New York Times reported on Sunday, citing a city official.

An autopsy was performed earlier in the day on the disgraced financier found unresponsive on Saturday in a New York City jail, chief medical examiner Dr. Barbara Sampson said. A private pathologist observed the autopsy on behalf of Epstein’s representatives, which she called “routine practice.”

A determination on the cause of death “is pending further information at this time,” Sampson said in a statement.

The suspicion in Epstein’s death was hanging, said a city official not authorized to speak on the record.

The Times did not say why it could not identify the source of information on the medical examiner’s likely determination of the cause of death.

Epstein, 66, was not on suicide watch at the time in his cell in the Special Housing Unit of the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a source said.

Epstein, a well-connected money manager, was found hanging by his neck, according to the source, who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The wealthy financier, who once counted Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic former President Bill Clinton as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls as young as 14, from at least 2002 to 2005.

The FBI and the Department of Justice’s Inspector General opened investigations into his suicide while he was in federal custody.

Last month, Epstein was found unconscious on the floor of his jail cell with marks on his neck, and officials were investigating that incident as a possible suicide or assault.

Despite that incident, Epstein was not on suicide watch at the time of his death, and he was alone in a cell in the unit of the correctional center used to isolate vulnerable prisoners when his body was found.

It was not immediately clear why Epstein was taken off suicide watch, a special set of procedures for inmates who are deemed to be at risk of taking their own lives.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons, which operates the MCC, provided no explanation beyond its terse statement that Epstein was found dead in an apparent suicide.

His death touched off outrage from Attorney General William Barr, politicians and many of Epstein’s alleged victims, who fear that they may lose their day in court now that Epstein is dead.

That investigation into conduct described in the indictment, including the conspiracy count, will continue despite Epstein’s death, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, said on Saturday.

The indictment – which accused Epstein of knowingly recruiting underage women to engage in sex acts, sometimes over a period of years – came more than a decade after he pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor in a deal with prosecutors that has been widely criticized as too lenient.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Rigby)

Trump calls Smollett case ’embarrassment,’ announces review

FILE PHOTO: Actor Jussie Smollett leaves court after charges against him were dropped by state prosecutors in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that the Department of Justice will “review” the case of actor Jussie Smollett, who was charged with staging a fake hate crime in Chicago before prosecutors abruptly dropped the case this week.

In an early morning tweet announcing the review, Trump said the case had embarrassed the nation.

Smollett, who is black and gay, said two men attacked him at night in January, making homophobic and racist remarks and putting a noose around his neck while shouting support for Trump.

Investigators later charged Smollett with paying the two men to pretend to attack him in order to garner public sympathy for himself. Prosecutors dropped the charges on Tuesday, saying they stood by the accusation but that an agreement by Smollett to forfeit his $10,000 bond was a just outcome.

The county prosecutors’ decision stunned the city’s police chief, prompted the police union to demand a federal investigation and enraged Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat, who called it a “whitewash” that made a fool of the city.

Trump, a Republican, echoed those remarks early on Thursday.

“FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago,” Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice. “It is an embarrassment to our Nation!”

Smollett, 36, says he is innocent and did not stage the attack. His spokeswoman and his lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday. The Department of Justice declined to comment.

The FBI has already had some involvement in the case, with agents investigating a threatening letter Smollett said he received prior to the attack, according to the Chicago Police Department.

The initial reports of two Trump supporters attacking a gay, black celebrity drew widespread sympathy for Smollett, particularly from Democrats. That faded quickly after the actor’s arrest, and the case was seized on by some as an example of what Trump likes to deride as “fake news.”

Smollett is best known for playing a gay musician on the Fox drama “Empire.” His lawyers said he hopes to move on with his acting career, but it remains unclear whether he will return to “Empire” after being written out of the last two episodes of the most recent season.

Chicago’s chief prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, has defended her office’s decision as proportionate to what she described as relatively minor charges, saying that even if Smollett had been convicted he would likely not have faced prison time.

Foxx recused herself from the case after acknowledging she had discussed it with a relative of Smollett.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

U.S. attorney general issues order to speed up immigrant deportations

Women from the Dominican Republic are apprehended by the border patrol for illegally crossing into the U.S. border from Mexico in Los Ebanos, Texas, U.S., August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday sought to speed up the deportation of illegal immigrants, telling immigration judges they should only postpone cases in removal proceedings “for good cause shown.”

Sessions, in an interim order that was criticized by some lawyers, said the “good-cause” standard “limits the discretion of immigration judges and prohibits them from granting continuances for any reason or no reason at all.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions takes part in a Federal Commission on School Safety meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions takes part in a Federal Commission on School Safety meeting at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Unlike the federal judiciary system, U.S. immigration courts fall under the Department of Justice and the attorney general can intervene. Sessions, a Republican former U.S. Senator appointed by President Donald Trump, has been unusually active in this practice compared to his predecessors.

Sessions has led efforts by the Trump administration to crack down on illegal immigration, including a “zero tolerance” policy that separated immigrant parents from their children while they were in U.S. detention. Trump abandoned the separation policy in June under political pressure.

Critical in showing “good cause” is whether a person is likely to succeed in efforts to remain in the United States, either by appealing for asylum or receiving some form of visa or work permit, Sessions said on Thursday.

Stephen Kang, an attorney with the ACLU immigrants rights project, described Sessions’ order as “troubling” and one of a series that “has moved in the direction of restricting due process rights for individuals who are in removal proceedings.”

Kang said Sessions seemed to portray immigrants seeking more time to prepare their cases as trying to “game the system and avoid deportation.”

Kang said removal proceedings were complex and people needed time “both to get lawyers to ensure that their due process rights are protected and time just to make sure their cases get a fair hearing.”

The Justice Department has been struggling to reduce a backlog of deportation cases. An analysis by the Government Accountability Office last year found the number of cases that drag on from one year to the next more than doubled between 2006 and 2015, mainly because fewer cases are completed per year.

Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said more immigration judges had been hired, but “unnecessary and improper continuances … continue to plague the immigration court system and contribute to the backlog.”

Sessions said on Thursday that the “use of continuances as a dilatory tactic is particularly pernicious in the immigration context” because people in the country illegally who want to remain have an incentive to delay their deportation as long as possible.

Granting continuances solely for good cause would be an “important check on immigration judges’ authority” and demonstrate public interest in “expeditious enforcement of the immigration laws,” Sessions said.

(Reporting by David Alexander; editing by Leslie Adler and Grant McCool)

U.S. lawmakers ask DOJ if terrorism law covers pipeline activists

U.S. lawmakers ask DOJ if terrorism law covers pipeline activists

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. representatives from both parties asked the Department of Justice on Monday whether the domestic terrorism law would cover actions by protesters that shut oil pipelines last year, a move that could potentially increase political rhetoric against climate change activists.

Ken Buck, a Republican representative from Colorado, said in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that damaging pipeline infrastructure poses risks to humans and the environment.

The letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, said “operation of pipeline facilities by unqualified personnel could result in a rupture – the consequences of which would be devastating.” It was signed by 84 representatives, including at least two Democrats, Gene Green and Henry Cuellar, both of Texas.

The move by the lawmakers is a sign of increasing tensions between activists protesting projects including Energy Transfer Partners LP’s Dakota Access Pipeline and the administration of President Donald Trump, which is seeking to make the country “energy dominant” by boosting domestic oil, gas, and coal output.

Last year activists in several states used bolt cutters to break fences and twisted shut valves on several cross border pipelines that sent about 2.8 million barrels per day of crude to the United States from Canada, equal to roughly 15 percent of daily U.S. consumption.

The letter asks Sessions whether existing federal laws arm the Justice Department to prosecute criminal activity against energy infrastructure. It also asks whether attacks on energy infrastructure that pose a threat to human life fall within the department’s understanding of domestic terrorism law.

The Department of Justice acknowledged receiving the letter and is reviewing it, a spokesman said.

A terrorism expert said it was ironic the lawmakers referred to the law, which defines “domestic terrorism” as acts dangerous to human life intended to intimidate civilians, but does not offer a way to prosecute anyone under it. David Schanzer, a homeland security and terrorism expert at Duke University, said the lawmakers’ request of Sessions “won’t have any legal ramifications, but possibly could be used for rhetorical value.”

A Minnesota court is considering charges against several protesters suspected of turning the valves on the pipelines last year. District Court Judge Robert Tiffany has allowed the defendants to present a “necessity defense.” That means they will admit shutting the valves, but may call witnesses, such as scientific experts, to offer testimony about the urgency of what they say is a climate crisis, activists said.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Diane Craft)

Cities dubbed immigrant ‘sanctuaries’ hit back on Trump funding threat

Immigrant supporters protest during the Los Angeles City Council ad hoc committee on immigration meeting in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 30, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Mica Rosenberg and Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Department of Justice is reviewing letters from 10 local jurisdictions that said they are in compliance with U.S. immigration law, to determine whether to cut federal funding, officials said Thursday, heating up a dispute between so-called sanctuary cities and President Donald Trump’s administration.

In April, the department had asked a handful of states and cities to document by June 30 their compliance with a statute that says local governments cannot prevent their employees from sharing information with U.S. immigration officials.

The Trump administration has said jurisdictions that do not fully cooperate are shielding “criminal illegal aliens,” and has promised to crack down on cities that do not comply. The sanctuary jurisdictions say they are following the law and do not want to spend local resources on immigration enforcement.

“It is not enough to assert compliance, the jurisdictions must actually be in compliance,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement on Thursday. He said the 10 jurisdictions had written in with “alleged compliance information” and that the government would “examine these claims carefully.”

Sessions’ statement said “some of these jurisdictions have boldly asserted they will not comply with requests from federal immigration authorities.” If the government finds the cities are violating the statute, known as Section 1373, it could decide to cut federal funds.

In the letters seen by Reuters, the jurisdictions say they are following the law even though some do not honor all “detainer” requests sent by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE.) A “detainer” asks local authorities to hold people in jail up to 48 hours beyond when they are set to be released so immigration officials can take them into custody.

Many of the letters noted that compliance with detainer requests is voluntary and is not required under the statute. The jurisdictions targeted are the states of California and Connecticut, Chicago and Cook County in Illinois, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee and New York.

At least one of the jurisdictions – Nevada’s Clark County, which is dominated by Las Vegas – has a long-standing formal agreement with ICE in which local police officers help with federal immigration enforcement.

New York City said it complies with detainer requests for people who have been convicted of certain “violent or serious” crimes, so long as the request is accompanied by a judicial warrant. Like other cities, New York said its priority is creating trust between immigrant communities and local police to encourage residents, even if they are living in the country illegally, to report crimes.

Mitchell Landrieu, the Mayor of New Orleans made a similar argument in a letter to Sessions. He said the administration has erroneously characterized sanctuary cities as havens for Central American gangs. Landrieu said an audit of gangs in New Orleans did not find a single Latino-dominated group.

“Undocumented people who commit violent crimes must face the criminal and immigration legal systems of this country. But that does not mean that all people are illegal immigrants that are part of violent gangs,” Landrieu wrote.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele called the Justice Department’s statement on Thursday “inflammatory.”

The county is at risk of losing more than $6 million in revenue if the Justice Department follows through, a June 28 letter from its lawyers said. It said Milwaukee would “avail itself of all legal options available” to “protect its grant funding.”

Trump’s executive order early in his presidency pledging to cut funding to sanctuary cities has been challenged in the courts. In April, a federal judge in San Francisco said in a case brought by Santa Clara county that cities were likely to succeed in proving Trump’s order unconstitutional.

The California county wrote in a court filing on Thursday that top administration officials have repeatedly stated that federal funding should be tied to local willingness to honor ICE detainer requests.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Jonathan Allen in New York; additional reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco; editing by Grant McCool)

Contractor charged with leaking document about U.S. election hacking: sources

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. Reality Winner/Social Media via REUTERS

By Dustin Volz and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday charged a federal contractor with sending classified material to a news organization that sources identified to Reuters as The Intercept, marking one of the first concrete efforts by the Trump administration to crack down on leaks to the media.

Reality Leigh Winner, 25, was charged with removing classified material from a government facility located in Georgia. She was arrested on June 3, the Justice Department said.

The charges were announced less than an hour after The Intercept published a top-secret document from the U.S. National Security Agency that described Russian efforts to launch cyber attacks on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and send “spear-phishing” emails, or targeted emails that try to trick a recipient into clicking on a malicious link to steal data, to more than 100 local election officials days before the presidential election last November.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the case beyond its filing. Federal Bureau of Investigation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While the charges do not name the publication, a U.S. official with knowledge of the case said Winner was charged with leaking the NSA report to The Intercept. A second official confirmed The Intercept document was authentic and did not dispute that the charges against Winner were directly tied to it.

The Intercept’s reporting reveals new details behind the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian intelligence services were seeking to infiltrate state voter registration systems as part of a broader effort to interfere in the election, discredit Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and help then Republican candidate Donald Trump win the election.

The new material does not, however, suggest that actual votes were manipulated.

The Intercept co-founding editor Glenn Greenwald did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Winter’s mother also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While partially redacted, the NSA document is marked to show it would be up for declassification on May 5, 2042. The indictment against Winner alleges she “printed and improperly removed” classified intelligence reporting that was dated “on or about May 5, 2017.”

Classified documents are typically due to be declassified after 25 years under an executive order signed under former President Bill Clinton.

The NSA opened a facility in Augusta in 2012 at Fort Gordon, a U.S. Army outpost.

The FBI and several congressional committees are investigating how Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and whether associated of President Donald Trump may have colluded with Russian intelligence operatives during the campaign.

Trump has dismissed the allegations as “fake news,” while attempting to refocus attention on leaks of information to the media.

Winner graduated from basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio in 2011. Investigators determined she was one of only six individuals to print the document in question and that she had exchanged emails with the news outlet, according to the indictment.

U.S. intelligence agencies including the NSA and CIA have fallen victim to several thefts of classified material in recent years, often at the hands of a federal contractor. For example, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 disclosed secret documents to journalists, including The Intercept’s Greenwald, that revealed broad U.S. surveillance programs.

(Additional reporting by John Walcott)