Joshua Schulte: Former CIA hacker sentenced to 40 years in prison

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A former CIA officer has been sentenced to 40 years in prison for leaking a trove of classified hacking tools to whistle-blowing platform Wikileaks.

Joshua Schulte was also found guilty of possessing child abuse images.

Prosecutors have accused him of leaking the CIA’s “Vault 7” tools, which allow intelligence officers to hack smartphones and use them as listening devices.

They said the leak is one of the most “brazen” in US history.

Schulte, 35, shared some 8,761 documents to Wikileaks in 2017, amounting to the largest data breach in the history of the CIA, the US justice department said.

He denied the allegations, but was convicted on the various counts at three separate federal trials in New York in 2020, 2022, and 2023.

On Thursday, he was sentenced for charges of espionage, computer hacking, contempt of court, making false statements to the FBI and possession of child abuse images.

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

According to evidence shared at the trial, Schulte was employed as a software developer in the Center for Cyber Intelligence, which conducts cyber espionage against terrorist organisations and foreign governments.

Prosecutors said that in 2016 that he transmitted the stolen information to Wikileaks and then lied to FBI agents about his role in the leak.

They said that he was seemingly motivated by anger over a workplace dispute.

Schulte had been struggling to meet deadlines and Assistant US Attorney Michael Lockard said one of his projects was so far behind schedule that he had earned the nickname “Drifting Deadline”.

The prosecutors said he wanted to punish those he perceived to have wronged him and said in “carrying out that revenge, he caused enormous damage to this country’s national security”.

Wikileaks began publishing classified data from the files in 2017.

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

The FBI interviewed Schulte several times after WikiLeaks published the data, where he denied responsibility.

A search of his apartment, prosecutors said, later revealed “tens of thousands of images of child sexual abuse materials”.

They added that after his arrest, Schulte attempted to transmit more information. He smuggled a phone into jail where he attempted to send a reporter information about CIA cyber groups and drafted tweets that included information about CIA cyber tools under the name Jason Bourne, a fictional intelligence operative.

He has been held behind bars since 2018.

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