Former CIA employee sentenced to 40 years in prison for largest data breach in agency history, other charges

Joshua Schulte, a former CIA officer, was sentenced Thursday to 40 years in prison for the largest data breach in the agency’s history, along with other charges.

Schulte was charged on crimes of espionage, computer hacking, contempt of court, making false statements to the FBI and child pornography, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a release.

“Joshua Schulte betrayed his country by committing some of the most brazen, heinous crimes of espionage in American history. He caused untold damage to our national security in his quest for revenge against the CIA for its response to Schulte’s security breaches while employed there,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.

Schulte, who worked as a computer engineer within the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, was accused of handing over classified data to WikiLeaks.

Schulte was convicted in 2022 on federal charges after the leak revealed how the CIA hacked Apple and Android smartphones in overseas spy operations and efforts to turn internet-connected televisions into listening devices, The Associated Press reported.

Schulte, who represented himself in court, said anyone could have perpetrated the breach. Throughout trial, prosecutors alleged that Schulte was motivated to orchestrate the leak because he thought the agency had disrespected him by ignoring his complaints about the work environment, the news wire reported.

After “personnel disputes” between Schulte and another developer, he was transferred in March 2016 to a different branch of the center, where he abused administrator privileges to grant himself access to a project he no longer should have had access to. He then stole files, committing the CIA’s largest data breach in history, and transmitted them to WikiLeaks using his personal computer, the DOJ said.

After WikiLeaks published the classified information, it “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.” It caused “grave harm” to the national security of the country and has been called the “digital Pearl Harbor,” the release said.

“When the FBI caught him, Schulte doubled down and tried to cause even more harm to this nation by waging what he described as an ‘information war’ of publishing top secret information from behind bars,” Williams’s statement said. “All the while, Schulte collected thousands upon thousands of videos and images of children being subjected to sickening abuse for his own personal gratification.”

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