Image: The headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia. Credit: CIA via Flickr

Former CIA officer who gave WikiLeaks state secrets gets 40-year sentence

A software engineer responsible for the biggest data breach in the history of the CIA has been sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Former CIA officer Joshua Schulte, 35, was accused of espionage, computer hacking, contempt of court, providing false statements to the FBI and possession of child pornography. In addition to his prison term, he was sentenced to a lifetime of supervised release.

“Joshua Schulte betrayed his country by committing some of the most brazen, heinous crimes of espionage in American history,” said Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The FBI “made sure that he will spend 40 years behind bars – right where he belongs,” Williams added.

Schulte worked from 2012 to 2016 as a software developer at the U.S. Center for Cyber Intelligence (CCI), specializing in offensive cyber operations. During this period, he briefly served as one of the administrators of an agency server and a suite of development programs used to build cyber tools.

Schulte breached the CIA network, stealing backups and copies of the entire CCI tool development archives. He then sent the stolen CIA files to WikiLeaks, a website known for publishing sensitive, censored, or restricted information. The documents were known as Vault 7.

Since 2017, WikiLeaks has released 26 disclosures of classified data from the CIA's files, making it one of the largest unauthorized disclosures of classified information in the history of the U.S.

According to court documents, Schulte's theft “immediately and profoundly” damaged the CIA’s ability to collect foreign intelligence against U.S. adversaries; placed CIA personnel, programs, and assets directly at risk, and cost the CIA hundreds of millions of dollars.

During multiple interviews with the FBI following WikiLeaks disclosures, Schulte repeatedly denied being responsible for leaking the files.

While detained pending trial, Schulte wrote in his journal that he planned to “break diplomatic relationships, close embassies, and end U.S. occupation across the world.”

When searching his apartment in New York, the FBI uncovered multiple computers and servers where, under layers of encryption, Schulte had hidden tens of thousands of videos and images of “disturbing and horrific” child sexual abuse.

He 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 the investigation.

Schulte was convicted of crimes in three separate trials from March 2020 until September 2023.

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Daryna Antoniuk

Daryna Antoniuk

is a reporter for Recorded Future News based in Ukraine. She writes about cybersecurity startups, cyberattacks in Eastern Europe and the state of the cyberwar between Ukraine and Russia. She previously was a tech reporter for Forbes Ukraine. Her work has also been published at Sifted, The Kyiv Independent and The Kyiv Post.