The Intercept dropped its most significant story in its three-year history on Tuesday. The website published a piece based on leaked NSA documents that detailed what appeared to be a previously unreported Russia-backed cyberattack on the U.S. election that included vendors selling voter registration systems.
Almost immediately afterward, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it had arrested a government contractor for leaking classified informationand claimed it was The Intercept‘s source.
That led to immediate speculation as to whether The Intercept had accidentally given up the source. The DOJ claimed that when The Intercept had shown the documents to the NSA for verification, it had also provided some of the evidence needed to find the leak.
On Tuesday, The Intercept pushed back. Its message: Don’t believe a thing the government tells you.
“While the FBIs allegations against Winner have been made public through the release of an affidavit and search warrant, which were unsealed at the governments request, it is important to keep in mind that these documents contain unproven assertions and speculation designed to serve the governments agenda and as such warrant skepticism,” the company said in a statement. “Winner faces allegations that have not been proven. The same is true of the FBIs claims about how it came to arrest Winner.”
The Intercept also said that it had no knowledge of who its source is, and therefore could not confirm or deny that Reality Winner, who the Justice Department had arrested, had leaked the documents.
The website’s statement comes as it is taking heat for the arrest. The Intercept has made a name as a destination for people willing to leak classified information to journalists who can safeguard sources and write intelligently on national security issues.
The arrest of a source to have allegedly leaked to the website has led to various people in the cybersecurity community to question if the website had acted responsibly in handling the leaked documents.
Others have noted that Winner allegedly printed out the docs and also emailed the Intercept, actions that would have made her an easily identifiable suspect either way.