A former CIA software engineer has received a lengthy 40-year prison sentence for the largest and most damaging data breach in the spy agency’s history.
Joshua Schulte was convicted on espionage and child pornography charges for providing classified CIA hacking tools to the whistleblowing website Wikileaks in 2017. He had faced up to 80 years in prison.
The leak of over 8,000 pages of documents, known as “Vault 7”, revealed the CIA’s secret cyber capabilities for spying through smartphones, smart TVs and other internet-connected devices. It prompted security upgrades from large tech companies whose products were exposed.
Prosecutors described Schulte’s actions as some of the “most brazen” acts of espionage against the US. They accused him of being motivated by anger after poor work reviews and conflicts with colleagues.
But Schulte maintained his innocence, arguing that the CIA’s network security was so weak that hundreds of people could have accessed the information. His defense painted him as a scapegoat for the agency’s failures.
Ultimately, a federal jury found him guilty on nine criminal counts, including illegal transmission of unlawfully possessed national defense information and contempt of court. He was acquitted on other charges like attempted illegal transmission of national defense information.
The former CIA employee was first arrested in 2018 on child pornography charges after a search of his New York apartment uncovered a massive trove of illicit images. Additional espionage charges followed later.
According to trial evidence, Schulte worked for the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, conducting overseas cyber-espionage against terrorists and foreign adversaries.
But he struggled to meet deadlines, earning him the mocking nickname “Drifting Deadline.” Prosecutors allege he went rogue in retaliation for perceived slights by his colleagues and managers.
The leaked documents were published by Wikileaks in March 2017 under the name “Vault 7.” They revealed how the CIA could hack into consumer electronic devices and use them for surveillance purposes.
Smartphones, smart TVs, vehicles, and internet-connected appliances were all vulnerable, according to the data. It provided step-by-step instructions on compromising these devices.
This immediately damaged the CIA’s foreign intelligence gathering capabilities against terrorist groups and rival nations, prosecutors said. It also put CIA assets and operatives at grave risk.
The agency was forced to spend hundreds of millions reworking its cyber-spying techniques and bolstering security. Tech giants like Apple and Microsoft scrambled to patch major vulnerabilities revealed in their products.
When questioned by the FBI, Schulte denied involvement with the leaks. But officials found a phone hidden in his jail cell where he drafted tweets under a fake name about CIA operations.
This brazen behavior behind bars led to additional charges like contempt of court and making false statements.
The VERDICT delivers some justice for Schulte’s betrayal of public trust and theft of government property. But it also sends a strong message to potential leakers that these crimes carry severe consequences.
While Schulte claimed to be acting as a whistleblower, the indiscriminate disclosure of CIA capabilities unrelated to any wrongdoing failed to serve the public interest. It only aided America’s enemies.
This longtime CIA employee abused his access to compromise ongoing intelligence operations, harm national security, and endanger American lives. His actions were those of a disgruntled worker, not a principled reformer.
The lengthy 40-year sentence reflects the gravity of damage inflicted in one of the worst breaches of US intelligence in history. It provides a stern warning to others entrusted with sensitive government secrets.