Ex-CIA Engineer Convicted in Largest Theft of CIA Secrets in History

Ex-CIA computer engineer Joshua Schulte was convicted of causing the largest theft of classified information in CIA history in federal court on Wednesday.

Schulte was employed by the CIA as part of a team of programmers that worked in a secret, guarded CIA building in Langley, Virginia to create tools to hack into smartphones, computers, and internet-connected televisions in overseas spying operations. In 2017, WikiLeaks exposed thousands of pages of this confidential information in a release known as the Vault 7 leak.

According to prosecutors, Schulte began to leak classified information, and continued to do so while awaiting trial behind bars, because the CIA had ignored his workplace complaints. According to Schulte, who represented himself during the retrial, the CIA and FBI chose to make him a scapegoat for the 2017 public release of CIA secrets by WikiLeaks.

Schulte encouraged the jury to consider the reasonable doubt standard and the idea that “hundreds of people had access to” the information. Prosecutors, however, argued that there was strong proof that Schulte had taken a sensitive backup computer file, including Schulte’s list of chores that included, “Delete suspicious emails.”

After the verdict, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said that Schulte had been convicted of “one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history.” The nine counts comprising Schulte’s conviction carry a maximum combined sentence of 80 years in prison.

The case had been tried once before in 2020, but ended in a mistrial when jurors could not agree on many important counts, including illegal gathering and transmission of national defense information.

Additional Reading

A former CIA engineer is convicted in a massive theft of secrets released by WikiLeaks, NPR (July 13, 2022)

Ex-C.I.A. Engineer Convicted in Biggest Theft Ever of Agency Secrets, The New York Times (July 13, 2022)

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