By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 14, 2006; A09
A government consultant who cracked the FBI's classified computer network and learned the passwords of 38,000 employees, including that of the director, was spared a prison sentence yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon sentenced Joseph Thomas Colon to six months of home detention after finding that the computer consultant did not try to harm national security or use the information for his own benefit or profit.
"This is not a case of al-Qaeda people trying to sneak into the FBI system," Leon said. Instead, it was a case of someone being "too clever by half."
Colon, 29, pleaded guilty in March to four counts of intentionally accessing a computer while exceeding authorized access and obtaining information from any department of the United States. He could have received as much as 18 months in prison.
Colon admitted he entered the system using the identity of an FBI special agent and two computer hacking programs found on the Internet to get into one of the nation's most secret databases. As a result, the bureau said it was forced to shut down its network temporarily and commit thousands of hours and millions of dollars to ensure no sensitive information was lost or misused.
During sentencing, Colon said he used the passwords and other information to bypass bureaucratic obstacles and better help the FBI install its new "Trilogy" computer system. He said he hoped to impress superiors and become an FBI agent.
"As with any IT systems administrator, whether in government or private business, Joseph T. Colon was granted a substantial level of trust," said Charles S. Phalen Jr., assistant director of the FBI's security division. "He betrayed that trust."
Colon has since lost his job as a consultant for BAE Systems and his top-secret clearance.
Prosecutors said Colon asked for additional clearances and was denied. They say he also used access to the system for "curiosity hacks" that were not related to his job.