Washington, June 19 (IANS) Federal prosecutors have charged a former CIA employee with leaking information about the agency’s cyber-tools that it used to conduct spying operations overseas.
Joshua Adam Schulte, who worked for a Central Intelligence Agency’s group designing computer code to spy on foreign adversaries, was charged on Monday in a 13-count superseding indictment with illegally gathering and transmitting national defence information in connection with “one of the most significant leaks in CIA history”.
The indictment accused Schulte, 29, of causing sensitive information to be transmitted to an organization that is not named in the indictment but is believed to be WikiLeaks, the Washington Post reported.
WikiLeaks posted the hacking tools online in 2017 in a release it called “Vault 7”. Prosecutors alleged Schulte stole the information in 2016.
Schulte had long been a suspect of investigators exploring the leak, but before Monday he had been held on separate child pornography charges.
Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement that investigators looking into Schulte found the pornography in his residence. His personal computer, federal prosecutors alleged, held more than 10,000 images and videos of such material, protected under three layers of passwords.
Schulte was arrested on charges stemming from the porn in August 2017.
“Schulte utterly betrayed this nation and downright violated his victims,” said William F. Sweeney Jr., the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office.
“As an employee of the CIA, Schulte took an oath to protect this country, but he blatantly endangered it by the transmission of classified information. To further endanger those around him, Schulte allegedly received, possessed and transmitted thousands of child pornographic photos and videos.”
The Post said that in a statement earlier, Schulte claimed that he reported “incompetent management and bureaucracy” at the CIA to the agency’s inspector general and to a Congressional oversight committee.
He asserted that that cast him as disgruntled and when he left the CIA, he became a suspect in the leak as “the only one to have recently departed (the CIA engineering group) on poor terms”.
The indictment accused Schulte of exceeding his authorized access to CIA computer systems and altering systems to delete records of his activities and deny others access.
Added together, the charges against him carry a statutory maximum penalty of 135 years in prison.
According to certain current and former intelligence officials, the Vault 7 disclosures could cause more damage than those done by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.
During his tenure at NSA, Snowden downloaded tens of thousands of classified top secret US documents.