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Ex-CIA software engineer sentenced to 40 years for giving secrets to WikiLeaks

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A former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) software engineer who was convicted for carrying out the largest theft of classified information in the agency’s history and of charges related to child abuse imagery was sentenced to 40 years in prison on Thursday.

The 40-year sentence by US district judge Jesse Furman was for “crimes of espionage, computer hacking, contempt of court, making false statements to the FBI, and child pornography”, federal prosecutors said in a statement. The judge did not impose a life sentence as sought by prosecutors.

Joshua Schulte was convicted in July 2022 on four counts each of espionage and computer hacking and one count of lying to FBI agents, after giving classified materials to the whistleblowing agency WikiLeaks in the so-called Vault 7 leak. Last August, a judge mostly upheld the conviction.

WikiLeaks in March 2017 began publishing the materials, which concerned how the CIA surveilled foreign governments, alleged extremists and others by compromising their electronics and computer networks.

Prosecutors characterized Schulte’s actions as “the largest data breach in the history of the CIA, and his transmission of that stolen information to WikiLeaks is one of the largest unauthorized disclosures of classified information” in US history. A representative of Schulte could not immediately be reached for comment.

Prosecutors also said Schulte received thousands of images and videos of child sexual abuse, and that they found the material in Schulte’s New York apartment, in an encrypted container beneath three layers of password protection, during the CIA leaks investigation.

The US intelligence agencies faced major embarrassment in 2017 after WikiLeaks published what it described as the biggest ever leak of confidential documents from the CIA detailing the tools it uses to break into phones, communication apps and other electronic devices.

The thousands of leaked documents focused mainly on techniques for hacking, and revealed how the CIA cooperated with British intelligence to engineer a way to compromise smart televisions and turn them into improvised surveillance devices.

The leak, named Vault 7 by WikiLeaks, raised questions about the inability of US spy agencies to protect secret documents in the digital age. It followed hard on the heels of disclosures about Afghanistan and Iraq by army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 and about the National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ by Edward Snowden in 2013.

Reuters contributed reporting

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