Former CIA engineer sentenced to 40 years for orchestrating massive data breach

The engineer sent the stolen information WikiLeaks, causing severe damage to national security, jeopardising CIA operations and personnel.

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A former CIA software engineer Joshua Adam Schulte has been sentenced 40 years in prison for orchestrating the largest data breach in the agency’s history. The DOJ underlines the gravity of the case, noting that Schulte’s transmission of the stolen information to WikiLeaks constitutes one of the most extensive unauthorised disclosures of classified data in US history.

The 35-year-old New Yorker has been charged with espionage, computer hacking, contempt of court, making false statements to the FBI, and child pornography.

Court documents revealed that Schulte stole copies of the entire Center for Cyber Intelligence tool development archives, attempting to cover his tracks by deleting numerous files before sending the stolen information to WikiLeaks. In 2016, after abusing his administrator powers, Schulte was transferred from the Center for Cyber Intelligence to another division.

WikiLeaks began publishing classified data from the stolen CIA files in 2017, with a total of 26 disclosures referred to as “Vault 7 and Vault 8.” Despite the leaks largely comprising instruction manuals for outdated hacking tools, the breach’s scale led some officials to draw parallels with the notorious case of Edward Snowden from the National Security Agency.

During investigations following the leak, Schulte repeatedly lied and fabricated narratives to deflect suspicion. The DOJ emphasised the severe consequences of his actions, stating that the theft and disclosure significantly impaired the CIA’s ability to collect foreign intelligence, jeopardising personnel, programs, and assets while incurring substantial financial losses.

A former CIA deputy director of digital innovation characterised the leak as a ‘digital Pearl Harbor’ during Schulte’s trial. US Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York condemned Schulte’s actions, stating that he ‘betrayed his country by committing some of the most brazen, heinous crimes of espionage in American history.’