A former Central Intelligence Agency computer engineer has been convicted of leaking a large tranche of classified material that revealed some of the agency’s most powerful hacking techniques. Joshua Schulte, 33, worked for an elite software team within the CIA when he stole a cache of documents in 2016 and shared them with Wikileaks, which published the material in 2017. It was one of the worst breaches in the CIA’s history.
Schulte was found guilty of nine charges, including illegally gathering and distributing national defense information, by a federal jury in Manhattan on Wednesday. The convictions could net him up to 80 years in prison.
Federal prosecutors painted Schulte as a disgruntled employee who had leaked the material out of resentment for work-related issues. Schulte, meanwhile, acted as his own defense counsel in the case, claiming that he had been singled out as a “scapegoat” and that the case against him was “a political witch hunt.”
Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney prosecuting Schulte, denounced the convicted man in a statement Wednesday.
“When Schulte began to harbor resentment toward the CIA, he covertly collected those tools and provided them to WikiLeaks, making some of our most critical intelligence tools known to the public—and therefore our adversaries,” said Williams. “Today, Schulte has been convicted for one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history.”
“Vault 7” consisted of some 9,000 pages and shed light on a host of creepy hacking techniques used by the agency. The leak demonstrated that the CIA had developed the capability to hack into smart TVs and turn them into a surveillance devices (very 1984), that it had enlisted a previously unknown army of hackers, and that those keyboard warriors work around the clock to penetrate all sorts of smart phones, operating systems, popular communication services like Skype, and even common anti-virus software. According to Wikileaks, the CIA also “hoarded” zero-day vulnerabilities—unknown bugs that could be exploited to gain access to technical systems with extreme speed. The government says that these tactics are used to break into the networks of terrorists and foreign adversaries.
Schulte faced a previous trial for the leak two years ago, but a jury was unable to come to an agreement on a majority of the charges against him, and the case ended in mistrial. He is also currently facing a separate trial over alleged possession of child pornography, which federal agents say was found on his devices when they searched his home in connection to the case.