Former CIA employee sentenced to 40 years in prison following leak of hacking info to Wikileaks that he said 'goes too far'

Did you know that thirty-four terabytes of data equals about 2.2 billion pages of text? Well, it does, and that is just an estimate of how much data was stolen in a data breach within the CIA in 2016. Potentially worse than the amount of information stolen is the fact that the theft was not even discovered until about a year later.

After nearly eight years, Joshua Schulte, the former CIA employee that carried out what is now known to be the largest data leak in CIA history, has been sentenced to 40 years in prison. The US Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York made the announcement last week. 

Court records show that in the summer of 2015, Schulte’s work environment began taking a hostile turn. Feuds arose began between him and management and a co-worker, ultimately resulting in both Shulte and the co-worker being transferred after Schulte filed for a retraining order against the co-worker.

Schulte’s role within the CIA was a computer engineer in the agency's Center for Cyber Intelligence. He created cyber tools with the ability to undetectably take data from computers. When CIA officials discussed hiring a contractor to build something similar the what he'd been working on, Schulte allegedly became enraged.

According to court records, the theft of the cyber tools and source code was carried out by Schulte and then transferred to WikiLeaks in what became known as Vault 7 and Vault 8. In the information dump, Wikileaks included a press release indicating that the files, over 8,700 of them, were received anonymously. The site said the source was concerned about privacy laws and the CIA going too far with its hacking abilities, including into TVs, phones, and even cars worldwide.

Wikileaks also indicated at the time that these advanced hacking cyber tools may "potentially be in the hands of criminals."

Further, the technology enables it to appear as though the hackers were located in Russia. 

Despite the advanced capabilities, Schulte being enabled to share the information was a result of what's described as “woefully lax” security.

In an October 2017 report, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo wrote, “We failed to recognize or act in a coordinated fashion on warning signs that a person or persons with access to CIA classified information posed an unacceptable risk to national security.”

During his 2020 trial, Schulte defended himself, with that trial ending in a hung jury. He was tried again and convicted until 2022. In addition to the 2022 convictions of obstructing a criminal investigation and grand jury proceedings, as well as illegally gathering and transmitting national defense information, Schulte faced additional charges. According to the US Attorney’s Office, in 2023, he was found guilty of receiving, possessing, and transporting child pornography.

US Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement, “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.”

Williams added, “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 of videos and images of children being subjected to sickening abuse for his own personal gratification.”
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