A former CIA officer has received a 40-year prison sentence for disclosing a significant amount of classified hacking tools to the whistle-blowing platform Wikileaks.
Joshua Schulte was also convicted of possessing child abuse images.
Prosecutors have alleged that he disclosed the CIA’s “Vault 7” tools, enabling intelligence officers to exploit smartphones for surveillance purposes.
They described the leak as one of the most audacious in US history.
In 2017, Schulte, 35, shared a staggering number of documents to Wikileaks, which the US justice department has deemed as the largest data breach in the history of the CIA.
Despite his denial, he was ultimately found guilty on multiple charges in three separate federal trials held in New York between 2020 and 2023.
On Thursday, he received a sentence for a range of serious offences, including espionage, computer hacking, contempt of court, making false statements to the FBI, and possession of child abuse images.
“Joshua Schulte committed acts that can only be described as incredibly audacious and despicable, betraying his country in a manner that ranks among the most notorious cases of espionage in American history,” stated US Attorney Damian Williams.
Based on the evidence presented during the trial, it was revealed that Schulte worked as a software developer in the Centre for Cyber Intelligence. This department is responsible for conducting cyber espionage on terrorist organisations and foreign governments.
According to prosecutors, in 2016, he allegedly shared the stolen information with Wikileaks and later provided false information to FBI agents regarding his involvement in the leak.
According to reports, his actions were apparently driven by frustration stemming from a disagreement at work.
Schulte had been facing challenges in meeting deadlines, and Assistant US Attorney Michael Lockard mentioned that one of his projects was significantly delayed, leading to him being called “Drifting Deadline”.
The prosecutors claimed that his intentions were driven by a desire to seek retribution against those he believed had harmed him. They further stated that in seeking this revenge, he inflicted significant harm upon the national security of the country.
Wikileaks started releasing classified information from the files in 2017.
According to prosecutors, the leak had a significant and detrimental impact on the CIA’s foreign intelligence collection efforts. It directly endangered CIA personnel, programmes, and assets, and resulted in substantial financial losses for the agency.
After WikiLeaks published the data, Schulte was interviewed multiple times by the FBI, during which he consistently denied any responsibility.
During a search of his flat, prosecutors discovered a significant number of images depicting child sexual abuse materials.
It was reported that following his arrest, Schulte made further attempts to transmit additional information. He managed to bring a phone into jail and tried to share information with a reporter regarding CIA cyber groups. Additionally, he wrote tweets mentioning details about CIA cyber tools, all while using the alias of Jason Bourne, a fictional intelligence operative.
He has been in custody since 2018.