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Ex-CIA Engineer Jailed 40 years over 'Vault 7' Leaks

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A former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) software engineer who was convicted for stealing and leaking classified information in the biggest breach of classified data in the agency's history has been sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Joshua Schulte received the 40-year sentence by US district judge Jesse Furman on Thursday for several crimes including espionage, computer hacking, contempt of court, making false statements to the FBI, and child pornography possession.

Schulte’s theft is 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 the history of the United States. - DoJ press release reads.

The charges stem from Schulte's actions in 2016 when he was working as a CIA software engineer. According to the evidence presented at trial, Schulte stole a massive trove of classified information from CIA servers and later transmitted the data to the pro-transparency organization WikiLeaks.

In March 2017, WikiLeaks began publishing the leaked materials in batches named "Vault 7." The disclosures revealed details about highly sensitive CIA hacking tools and surveillance techniques targeting foreign governments and terror suspects. It marked one of the most compromising leaks of classified US spying capabilities.

The leak followed other high-profile breaches of classified data, including disclosures about the NSA and GCHQ by Edward Snowden in 2013 and about Iraq and Afghanistan by army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010. But the Vault 7 leak was unprecedented in its scale and the sensitivity of the surveillance information revealed.

During their investigation 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.

"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."

In 2020, Schulte was convicted on all counts except for two charges related to identity theft and copyright infringement. Last year, an appeals court mostly upheld the convictions but threw out two of the hacking counts.

Schulte had argued that the CIA's network security was so weak that hundreds of agency employees could have accessed the information. But prosecutors presented forensic evidence pinpointing Schulte as the source of the leak.

Reacting to Thursday's sentencing, prosecutors said Schulte had caused "one of the most brazen and malicious" acts of espionage against the US. Supporters of Schulte argued that he had exposed troubling government surveillance practices and that his sentencing was excessive.

“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.

The 40-year prison term marks the end of a years-long saga since the Vault 7 disclosure rocked the intelligence community.

The unprecedented leak of classified CIA hacking tools marked a major counterintelligence failure and breach of NSA networks. The lengthy sentence sends a clear deterrent message to would-be leakers of government secrets.

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