CIA coder convicted of massive leak of US hacking tools
The US government has indicted a former programmer in the CIA on charges raised under the Espionage Act, which can land him around a century in prison.
A former CIA programmer was found guilty in the New York federal court on Wednesday of leaking the agency's most valuable hacking tools to WikiLeaks in 2017, about two years after his initial prosecution ended in a mistrial.
Programmer Joshua Schulte worked for the CIA's elite hacking unit in 2017 when he discreetly gave out the "Vault 7" tools it utilizes to hack computer and technology systems and sent them to WikiLeaks after dropping his job at the US intelligence agency.
Upon the leaking of Vault 7, comprised of a collection of malware, viruses, trojans, and "zero day" exploits, foreign intelligence groups, hackers, and cyber extortionists around the world could use the collection of tools however they pleased.
Prosecutors claimed that Schulte was a "resentful" employee, accusing him of leaking 8,761 documents with the intention of harming the agency.
"Schulte was aware that the collateral damage of his retribution could pose an extraordinary threat to this nation if made public, rendering them essentially useless," US Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement following the conviction.
Williams claimed that the leak had a "devastating effect" on the intelligence community due to it providing critical intelligence to those who wish to harm the United States.
Schulte was one of the people who came into the limelight in the wake of WikiLeaks' publication of government secrets, and he was quietly charged in September 2017 with having a large cache of child pornography on his computer.
The judiciary later raised charges related to theft and transmission of national defense information under the Espionage Act.
He was also convicted in 2020 on two inferior charges of lying and contempt of court, but it mainly focused on the other charges.
Schulte was convicted on Wednesday on eight counts under the Espionage Act and one count of obstruction, with each espionage count bringing up to 10 years in prison.
The leak shook the CIA to the core in March 2017, and it was called one of the most damaging losses of classified material ever experienced by the agency. The hits taken by the CIA prompted Washington to mull taking harsher actions against WikiLeaks dubbed by then-CIA director Mike Pompeo a "hostile intelligence service."
The United States later moved to indict WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on espionage charges, though he is not a US national.
The US government overturned last year a block on the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from Britain to face trial for publishing top-secret documents exposing war crimes perpetrated by the US and its allies across the globe, although options to appeal remain open to his legal team.
Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said, "If the extradition proceeds, Amnesty International is extremely concerned that Assange faces a high risk of prolonged solitary confinement, which would violate the prohibition on torture or other ill-treatment. Diplomatic assurances provided by the US that Assange will not be kept in solitary confinement cannot be taken on face value given the previous history."
Washington presented the challenge after a lower court judge in London ruled in January that the 50-year-old journalist would be a suicide risk in the US justice system.
Assange is currently battling his extradition to the United States after UK Home Secretary Priti Patel approved Washington's request to extradite the journalist despite stark concerns surrounding his safety in the US.