Former CIA software engineer Joshua Schulte convicted of leaking documents to WikiLeaks

The 33-year-old has been found guilty of eight espionage charges and one obstruction charge over what prosecutors described as the ‘most brazen’ leak in history

Joshua Schulte (center) at his 2020 trial, which was declared a mistrial.
Joshua Schulte (center) at his 2020 trial, which was declared a mistrial.Elizabeth Williams (AP)

Joshua Schulte, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) software engineer, was convicted on Wednesday of leaking thousands of pages of documents to WikiLeaks in what is considered the biggest data leak in the CIA’s history.

Schulte, who worked for the CIA until he resigned in November 2016, was found guilty in a Manhattan federal court of eight espionage charges and one obstruction charge over the so-called Vault 7 leak, which detailed the CIA’s abilities to monitor people outside the US by hacking smartphones and internet-connected televisions. WikiLeaks began publishing the leaked documents in March 2017.

The 33-year-old former software engineer represented himself at the month-long trial. His original case was declared a mistrial in March 2020, after jurors were deadlocked on some of the most serious charges.

Prosecutors in the new trial argued that Schulte had leaked the classified documents out of spite because he was unhappy with the way he was treated as a worker.

“Schulte was a CIA programmer with access to some of the country’s most valuable intelligence-gathering cyber tools used to battle terrorist organizations and other malign influences around the globe,” Damian Williams, a US attorney from the Department of Justice, said in a statement. “When Schulte began to harbor resentment toward the CIA, he covertly collected those tools and provided them to WikiLeaks, making some of our most critical intelligence tools known to the public – and therefore, our adversaries.”

“Today, Schulte has been convicted for one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history,” in undermining US efforts to battle “terrorist organizations and other malign influences” around the world, Williams added.

Schulte argued that he was being used as a scapegoat for the leak.

The former CIA software engineer was arrested in August 2017 on unrelated charges. His bail was revoked four months later, and he has been in prison ever since. In June 2018, the Justice Department charged him for his involvement in the Vault 7 leak.

The conviction comes just one month after the UK government approved the extradition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States. The free speech activist, who caused a diplomatic crisis in 2012 when he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, faces federal criminal charges for his alleged involvement in the publication of secret military documents in 2010. Chelsea Manning, the former US Army Intelligence analyst who leaked thousands of classified Pentagon and State Department documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, was sent to prison in 2013 and released in 2020 after former US president Barack Obama commuted her sentence at the end of his mandate.

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