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Ex-CIA Officer Who Gave Secrets to WikiLeaks Sentenced to 40 Years

Larry Downing/Reuters
Larry Downing/Reuters

A former CIA software engineer who committed the largest data breach in the agency’s history and shared the information with WikiLeaks was sentenced to 40 years in prison on Thursday after being convicted on charges of espionage and possessing child pornography, federal prosecutors announced.

The sentence imposed on Joshua Schulte, 35, was predominantly for the theft from the CIA, Judge Jesse M. Furman said. “We will likely never know the full extent of the damage, but I have no doubt it was massive,” Furman said.

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Schulte, who has been in jail since 2018, had helped to make hacking tools at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The so-called Vault 7 leak, which WikiLeaks started publishing in March 2017, disclosed how the CIA surveilled targets overseas by hacking smartphones and had attempted to turn smart TVs into listening devices.

As well as being the biggest data breach the CIA has ever seen, Schulte’s sharing of the information was “one of the largest unauthorized disclosures of classified information in the history of the U.S.,” prosecutors said. They added that the leaks “profoundly damaged” the CIA’s ability to gather intelligence on adversaries of the U.S., placed the agency’s personnel at risk, and cost the agency “hundreds of millions of dollars.” At trial, a former CIA deputy director of digital innovation likened the leak as a “digital Pearl Harbor.”

At sentencing, Judge Furman said Schulte had not been “driven by any sense of altruism” but was instead “motivated by anger, spite and perceived grievance” against other agency staffers he felt had ignored complaints he’d raised about the work environment, the Associated Press reports.

Prosecutors also said that thousands of videos and images of child sexual abuse were discovered on Schulte’s personal desktop computer during the FBI’s investigation into the CIA breach. The “disturbing and horrific child pornography” was allegedly concealed by layers of encryption on the device.

“Joshua Schulte betrayed his country by committing some of the most brazen, heinous crimes of espionage in American history,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement, describing Schulte as a “traitor and predator.” “He caused untold damage to our national security in his quest for revenge against the CIA for its response to Schulte’s security breaches while employed there.”

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