Former CIA Cyber Engineer Sentenced to 40 Years for Massive Leak
A United States federal judge has sentenced Joshua Adam Schulte, a former CIA employee, to 40 years in prison for one of the largest disclosures of classified information in U.S. history. Schulte worked as a software developer for the CIA’s cyber operations division from 2012 to 2016, where he built hacking tools for intelligence gathering.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, an internal dispute in 2016 led to Schulte’s administrator privileges being revoked. However, he had secretly opened a backdoor to maintain access. Using this, Schulte stole the CIA’s entire archive of cyberweapons and tools, known as Vault 7. He then transmitted this data, the largest breach in CIA history, to WikiLeaks in 2017.
Over the next months, WikiLeaks published dozens of disclosures detailing the CIA’s capabilities to compromise devices like smart TVs and cars. This “digital Pearl Harbor” hampered CIA operations, threatened CIA personnel, and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, prosecutors said.
When questioned, Schulte lied repeatedly and invented false leads to throw off the FBI investigation. A later search found more than 10,000 images of child sexual abuse material on Schulte’s devices, some collected during his CIA employment.
While detained, Schulte violated court orders by leaking protected documents to the media and planning to publish more secrets in an “information war” through encrypted channels. He has now been convicted of espionage, contempt, false statements, and child pornography charges.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams did not hold back when he shared his thoughts on Schulte:
“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.
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.
The outstanding investigative work of the FBI and the career prosecutors in this Office unmasked Schulte for the traitor and predator that he is and made sure that he will spend 40 years behind bars—right where he belongs.”
The judge and prosecutors denounced Schulte’s unfathomable breach of the nation’s trust and his possession of abhorrent materials depicting abuse. In light of the profound and lasting damage caused by his actions, he has been handed down a substantial sentence that aims to reflect the severity of his crimes and perhaps to deter others from committing similar acts.