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Ex-CIA employee charged in major leak of agency hacking tools

Federal prosecutors on Monday charged a former CIA employee with violations of the Espionage Act and related crimes in connection with the leak late last year of a collection of hacking tools that the agency used for spy operations overseas. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Federal prosecutors charged a former CIA employee Monday with violations of the Espionage Act and related crimes in connection with the leak last year of a collection of hacking tools that the agency used for spy operations overseas.

Joshua Adam Schulte, who worked for a CIA group that designs computer code to spy on foreign adversaries, was charged in a 13-count superseding indictment with illegally gathering and transmitting national defense information and related counts in connection with what is considered to be one of the most significant leaks in CIA history.

The indictment accused Schulte of causing sensitive information to be transmitted to an organization that is not named in the indictment but is thought to be WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks posted the hacking tools online last year in a release it called “Vault 7.” Prosecutors alleged Schulte stole the information in 2016.

WikiLeaks strikes again. Here are 4 big questions about Vault 7.

Schulte had long been a suspect of investigators exploring the leak, but before Monday, he had been held on separate child pornography charges. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement that investigators looking into Schulte found the pornography in his residence. His personal computer, federal prosecutors alleged, held more than 10,000 images and videos of such material, protected under three layers of passwords.

Schulte was arrested on charges stemming from the porn in August 2017.

WikiLeaks says it has a trove on the CIA’s hacking secrets. Washington Post national security reporter Greg Miller explains what these documents reveal. (Video: Dalton Bennett, Greg Miller/The Washington Post)

“As alleged, Schulte utterly betrayed this nation and downright violated his victims,” William F. Sweeney Jr., the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said in a statement. “As an employee of the CIA, Schulte took an oath to protect this country, but he blatantly endangered it by the transmission of Classified Information. To further endanger those around him, Schulte allegedly received, possessed, and transmitted thousands of child pornographic photos and videos.”

An attorney for Schulte did not respond to an email seeking comment Monday night. In a statement reviewed by The Washington Post previously, Schulte claimed that he reported “incompetent management and bureaucracy” at the CIA to the agency’s inspector general and to a congressional oversight committee. He asserted that cast him as disgruntled and that when he left the CIA, he became a suspect in the leak as “the only one to have recently departed [the CIA engineering group] on poor terms.”

The indictment accuses Schulte, 29, of exceeding his authorized access to CIA computer systems and altering systems to delete records of his activities and deny others access. Added together, the charges against him carry a statutory maximum penalty of 135 years in prison. Some officials have compared the leak of which he is accused to that of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who also revealed details about U.S. capabilities to spy on computers and phones around the world.

Schulte worked in the CIA’s Engineering Development Group, according to people with knowledge of his employment history as well as the group’s role in developing cyberweapons. He left the intelligence community in 2016 and took a job in the private sector, according to a statement he wrote that was reviewed by The Post.

The evidence that prosecutors have connecting Schulte to the leak of information was not immediately clear. The Wiki­Leaks organization noted his indictment on Twitter, adding, “Perhaps reflecting weakness of CIA case, also charged for ‘criminal copyright infringement’ for sharing TV shows, child porn & lying to FBI.”

Shane Harris contributed to this report.