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Ex-CIA Agent Gets 40 Years in Prison for Largest Data Breach in Agency History

Joshua Schulte flanked by his attorneys during jury deliberations in 2020 in New York. AP
Joshua Schulte flanked by his attorneys during jury deliberations in 2020 in New York. AP

By: Brett Rowland | The Center Square

A former CIA agent convicted of the largest data breach in agency history along with child pornography is set to spend 40 years in prison.

Joshua Adam Schulte, 35, of New York, was sentenced to 40 years in prison for espionage, computer hacking, contempt of court, lying to the FBI, and child pornography. Prosecutors had asked for Schulte to be sentenced to life in prison. Schulte’s attorney had asked for nine years in prison, noting that his client had already been locked up for seven years under conditions he likened to torture.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman imposed the 40-year sentence after Schulte’s convictions at trials in 2020, 2022, and September 2023.

Schulte’s theft was the largest data breach in the history of the CIA. He gave stolen information to WikiLeaks in one of the largest unauthorized disclosures of classified information in the history of the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“Mr. Schulte severely harmed U.S. national security and directly risked the lives of CIA personnel, persisting in his efforts even after his arrest,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said in a statement.

Schulte worked as a software developer from 2012 to 2016 in the Center for Cyber Intelligence, which is responsible for offensive cyber operations such as cyber espionage relating to terrorist groups and foreign governments.

In March 2016, Schulte was moved within branches of CCI as a result of personnel disputes between Schulte and another developer. After that transfer, in April 2016, Schulte used his administrator powers to grant himself administrator privileges over a development project from which he had been removed as a result of the branch change. Officials detected that change and Schulte was given a warning.

Schulte had secretly opened an administrator session on one of the servers before his privileges were removed. On April 20, 2016, after other developers had left the office, Schulte restored his revoked privileges, broke in to the backups, stole copies of the entire CCI tool development archives, reverted the network back to its prior state, and deleted hundreds of log files in an attempt to cover his tracks.

From home, Schulte sent the stolen information to WikiLeaks, a nonprofit media organization founded by Julian Assange that has published classified documents from anonymous sources. The U.S. is working to extradite Assange from the United Kingdom to face charges in the U.S.

WikiLeaks started publishing the stolen information in 2017.

In March 2017, the FBI searched Schulte’s apartment in New York. Agents recovered computers, servers, and other electronic storage devices, including Schulte’s personal desktop computer. On that computer, FBI agents found layers of encryption hiding tens of thousands of videos and images of child sexual abuse materials, including “approximately 3,400 images and videos of disturbing and horrific child pornography and the rape and sexual abuse of children as young as two years old, as well as images of bestiality and sadomasochism,” according to the Justice Department. Schulte collected some of these files during his employment with the CIA and continued to stockpile child pornography from the dark web and Russian websites after moving to New York, according to prosecutors.

“Joshua Schulte betrayed his country by committing some of the most brazen, heinous crimes of espionage in American history,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams for the Southern District of New York. “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 … And all the while, Schulte collected thousands upon thousands of videos and images of children being subjected to sickening abuse for his own personal gratification.”

Williams said: “Joshua Schulte is a monster, and the sentence imposed today reflects the enormity of his crimes. The outstanding investigative work of the FBI and the career prosecutors in this office unmasked Schulte for the traitor and predator that he is and made sure that he will spend 40 years behind bars where he belongs.”

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