The Pantyhose Full of Secrets – How to Circumvent a Bag Inspection and Steal Classified Information

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We are all familiar with the tale of Reality Winner and her breach of trust when she printed off documents about a secret NSA program and then mailed the classified information to the Intercept. We read in the Department of Justice indictment how she had carried the document out of the building, took it home and sent it to the publication.

Now we learn a bit more about the events leading up to and following the arrest of Winner through the 81 pages of transcript recently declassified from Secret and released as part of the court record.

The tale starts with two special agents from the FBI who encountered Winner at her residence as she arrived home after work. They explained they had a search warrant for both the house and her automobile. They identified the various firearms which Winner had in her residence and isolated Winner’s dog.  A separate team searched Winner’s residence.

They took possession of her iPhone and asked her to provide her security code. She noted that she did not have a security code and then described to one of the special agents how to access the iPhone. They explained they had a separate warrant for her mobile phone.

During the course of the interview, Winner explained that when she first started with her contract employer, she inadvertently carried a classified document out of her office space, and into the cafeteria (unclassified area). Upon returning, the bag inspection revealed the classified document, and she was written up.

Through the course of the voluntary interview they work toward getting Winner to admit printing off the sensitive NSA document, which she did admit. Initially she claims that she read the paper describing the sensitive program and then put the document in the burn bag. After a bit more prodding, and getting nowhere, the special agent tells Winner the document has been compromised, “got out” and the most likely candidate was Winner. She continued to dissemble, and finally the special agent walked her through the “compelling” evidence he had.

want to steal secrets? stuff it in your pantyhose

When we first heard that Winner had secreted the documents out of her office and building, there were quite a few  Monday morning quarterbacking on how a facility bag inspection regime would have caught Winner red-handed. The bag inspection did exist and she had already been caught with classified coming back into the classified spaces once.

Unless things are different at your facility, few, if any, require employees or contractors to strip down to their undies as part of the bag inspection process. That was exactly what Winner was counting on.

In response to a specific question, “How did you get it out of the building, ” Winner declared, “Folded in half in my pantyhose.”

And now we know how she exfiltrated the classified documents from her building.

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).

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