Joshua Schulte: Former CIA hacker sentenced to 40 years in prison for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks

A former CIA officer has been sentenced to 40 years in jail for divulging a cache of classified hacking tools to the whistle-blowing platform Wikileaks and possessing child abuse images.

Joshua Schulte, 35, was sentenced for charges of espionage, computer hacking, contempt of court making false statements to the FBI, and child pornography, federal prosecutors said on Thursday,

Prosecutors accused Schulte of carrying out “the largest data breach in the history of the CIA”.

And the “transmission of that stolen information to WikiLeaks is one of the largest unauthorized disclosures of classified information” in the history of the country, prosecutors said.

He was accused of leaking the CIA’s so-called “Vault 7” tools, which allowed CIA officers to hack Apple and Android smartphones in overseas spying operations and also turn internet-connected televisions into listening devices.

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

Schulte denied the charges and accused the CIA and FBI of making him a scapegoat for the public release of a trove of CIA secrets by WikiLeaks in 2017.

In this courtroom sketch, Joshua Schulte, center, is seated at the defense table flanked by his attorneys during jury deliberations, Wednesday

(Elizabeth Williams)

The US intelligence agencies faced major embarrassment after WikiLeaks in March 2017 began publishing materials detailing how the CIA conducted surveillance on foreign governments, purported extremists, and other individuals by exploiting their electronic devices and computer networks.

Prosecutors said the leak “immediately and profoundly damaged the CIA’s ability to collect foreign intelligence against America’s adversaries; placed CIA personnel, programmes, and assets directly at risk; and cost the CIA hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Prosecutors alleged that Schulte, who worked as a software developer in the Center for Cyber Intelligence, orchestrated the leak as he was angered over workplace disputes and he tried “to burn to the ground” the very work he had helped the agency to create.

He believed that the CIA had disrespected him by ignoring his complaints about the work environment.

In his closing argument, Schulte claimed he was singled out even though “hundreds of people had access to (the information). … Hundreds of people could have stolen it”.

“The government’s case is riddled with reasonable doubt,” he added. “There’s simply no motive here.” Schulte has been held behind bars without bail since 2018. He was convicted in July 2022 on several charges.

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