Former CIA employee sentenced to 40 years behind bars for largest data leak in agency’s history

News & Politics

A former CIA employee has been sentenced to 40 years behind bars after executing the largest data leak in the agency’s history. The employee worked for the CIA from 2012 to 2016 as a software engineer in the Center for Cyber Intelligence, according to a report released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York.

Joshua Schulte, 35, was previously accused of releasing classified data to Wikileaks in 2016 and was subsequently convicted in 2022 of illegally gathering and transmitting national defense information and obstructing a criminal investigation and grand jury proceeding.

USA Today reported that Schulte was convicted of espionage, child pornography, computer hacking, contempt of court, and making false statements to the FBI in separate trials. Schulte’s sentencing took place in New York federal court after three trials that concluded on March 9, 2020, July 13, 2022, and September 12, 2023, according to federal records.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said, “Joshua Schulte betrayed his country by committing some of the most brazen, heinous crimes of espionage in American history.”

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“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,” Williams continued.

“When the FBI caught him, Schulte doubled down and tried to cause even more harm to this nation by waging what he described as an ‘information war’ of publishing top secret information from behind bars.”

“And all the while, Schulte collected thousands upon thousands of videos and images of children being subjected to sickening abuse for his own personal gratification.”

FBI assistant director in charge James Smith said “[t]oday, Joshua Schulte was rightly punished not only for his betrayal of our country, but for his substantial possession of horrific child pornographic material.”

“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.”

Wikileaks was founded on October 4, 2006, by Julian Assange. Since then, Assange has faced serious criminal charges for publishing classified government documents submitted to him anonymously. The journalist is currently being held in Belmarsh Prison, located in London.

Though the U.S. has tried to get him extradited to face charges, it has been contested in British courts.

According to an X post by Wikileaks, Schulte released documents that suggested the U.S. government planned to assassinate Assange. The reams of papers Schulte released are known as Vault 7.

Other prominent journalists and activists, including Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden, have advocated for Assange, suggesting that governments need to be held to account for their actions — especially the illegal ones.

They have also contested that the U.S. has violated press freedoms by going after those who have released incriminating details about the federal government. Another whistleblower, Daniel Ellsberg, faced charges after releasing what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

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