United States

Former CIA Employee Sentenced To 40-Year In Prison For Largest Data Leak In CIA’s History

The legal saga surrounding the former CIA employee Joshua Schulte has been going on since 2015 for carrying out the largest data breach in history. He was also accused of child pornography.

Image: AP
In this courtroom sketch, Joshua Schulte, center, is seated at the defense table flanked by his attorneys during jury deliberations, March 4, 2020, in New York. Photo: Image: AP

Joshua Schulte, a former CIA employee has been sentenced to 40 years in prison. He is convicted for orchestrating the largest data leak in the agency’s history, the US Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York announced on Thursday.

The legal saga surrounding Schulte dates back to 2015 when he engaged in a feud with management and a co-worker, resulting in a restraining order filed against the latter. As tensions escalated, both Schulte and his co-worker were transferred due to the ongoing discord. However, Schulte's troubles did not end there.

In the summer of 2015, Schulte's disagreements with CIA management intensified when officials expressed interest in hiring a contractor to develop a cyber tool similar to the one he was constructing. This disagreement fueled Schulte's animosity, ultimately leading to a series of events that would have severe repercussions for national security.

In 2016, investigators contended that Schulte, incensed by the CIA's decision to seek an external contractor for a project akin to his own, resorted to stealing cyber tools and source code. This classified information was subsequently handed over to WikiLeaks, which published the data in March 2017. The leak, known as Vault 7, exposed the inner workings of the CIA's cyber capabilities, raising questions about the agency's hacking practices and authority.

Schulte, in an attempt to cover his tracks, allegedly erased all traces of his access to the computer system, complicating efforts to identify the perpetrator. His actions not only compromised national security but also triggered a series of investigations that would ultimately lead to his arrest.

In August 2017, Schulte was apprehended on charges related to child pornography, marking a disturbing turn in the case. Subsequent investigations revealed that, in addition to his espionage activities, Schulte had engaged in the possession, receipt, and transportation of child pornography.

The sentencing, which encompasses convictions for illegally gathering and transmitting national defense information, obstructing a criminal investigation, and grand jury proceeding, among other charges, reflects the gravity of Schulte's betrayal of national trust.

US Attorney Damian Williams condemned Schulte's actions, stating, "Joshua Schulte betrayed his country by committing some of the most brazen, heinous crimes of espionage in American history. 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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The severity of the sentence also underscores the magnitude of the threat posed by Schulte's criminal conduct. FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith emphasized, "The severity of his actions is evident, and the sentence imposed reflects the magnitude of the disturbing and harmful threat posed by his criminal conduct."

The legal proceedings against Schulte witnessed a hung jury in 2020 before reaching a resolution in 2022. The subsequent child pornography charges further darkened the narrative, revealing a troubling personal dimension to Schulte's activities.