Ex-CIA coder behind WikiLeaks ‘Vault 7’ cache found guilty of spying

MANHATTAN (CN) — A New York jury on Wednesday found former CIA programmer Joshua Schulte guilty of nine counts of stealing classified documents from the spy agency and providing national cyber intelligence. at WikiLeaks.

For the espionage convictions alone – the 33-year-old still faces a separate trial on unrelated child pornography charges – Schulte faces up to 80 years in prison.

Schulte was just 28 when he was arrested in 2018, nearly six months after WikiLeaks released the largest collection of confidential CIA files ever released in the agency’s history. With over 7,000 pages, millions of lines of embedded computer code and several hundred attachments, the document dump that WikiLeaks has dubbed Vault 7 detailed how the agency uses malware to hack into iPhones, Android devices and private consumer Samsung Smart TVs.

Throughout the agency’s trove of documents, a variety of secret techniques, malware, and programs used to harvest live audio and video streams from their users’ devices are given novel-worthy names. sordid suspense. One such secret program revealed in the Vault 7 leak is Weeping Angel, which gives hackers a window into the world of the private citizen through their Samsung smart TVs.

The spy tools revealed how CIA hackers and other officials, including those of foreign governments, professionally engaged in a training system and frequently exchanged information on how to circumvent the password protections, antivirus software and other forms of encryption methods with relative ease.

Schulte, dressed in a black suit with a blue-gray tie, remained calm alongside his reserve attorney as U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman read the jury’s verdict Wednesday afternoon.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams hailed the sentencing for what he called “one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history.”

“Schulte was aware that the collateral damage of his retribution could pose an extraordinary threat to this nation if made public, rendering it essentially useless, having a devastating effect on our intelligence community by providing critical intelligence to those who wish us hurt,” Williams said in a statement after the verdict.

The government initially tried Schulte for the leak in 2020, but that month-long trial ended anticlimactic after a week of deadlocked jury deliberations on the eight most serious charges relating to the theft and transmission of secret CIA documents. Separated on contempt of court and lying to the FBI, two minor counts on which the jury found Schulte guilty in 2020, U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty declared a mistrial.

Schulte stood for retrial and jurors deliberated at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse for nearly four full days before reaching a guilty verdict on all counts on Wednesday.

Because Schulte is facing open counts of child pornography that were previously severed from the Vault 7-related charges, Judge Furman delayed setting a sentencing date.

Schulte will return to the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in two weeks for a status conference regarding the open child pornography charges, which carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.

As a coder at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Schulte himself had helped create the hacking tools exposed in the WikiLeaks publication, according to the government case. Prosecutors say Schulte used a backdoor password to access the CIA’s ‘highest technical secrets’ on offline servers in 2016, then tried to cover his tracks by manipulating and deleting the logs digital activity on sensitive CIA servers.

Schulte’s internet search history showed that for months after handing over the files to WikiLeaks, he repeatedly checked the website founded by Julian Assange – he was so obsessed, prosecutors said, with whether his leaked cache of documents had been released.

They portrayed him as a misfit and disgruntled employee, rather than a politically motivated whistleblower.

“There was no mistaken idealism here; he did it because he was angry and upset,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David Denton told jurors during opening arguments last month. “He felt that the CIA had looked down on him and disrespected him, so he tried to undo the very cyberintelligence work he had been a part of.”

Prosecutors deemed Schulte a traitor and accused him of continuing to commit crimes after his arrest by trying to release additional classified documents from prison as part of what they told jurors was an alleged “war information” against the government.

But Schulte disputed the portrayal, telling jurors he was inspired to serve his country after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that he swore then and there, as a 12-year-old boy in seventh grade, to do whatever he could prevent on another day like this.

Hired by the CIA in 2010, Schulte says he worked on the team that helped verify the location of Osama bin Laden before the al-Qaeda leader was killed in a nighttime US raid in Pakistan .

“Nobody ever questioned my loyalty or my patriotism,” he said. “That’s until now.”

On August 24, 2017 – approximately four months after WikiLeaks began releasing the Vault 7 files, but before his arrest for espionage – Schulte was arrested for receiving, possessing and transporting a child “approximately ten thousand images and videos of child pornography on an encrypted computer server.

Schulte will be tried separately in the Southern District of New York on the child pornography charges.

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