A former CIA software engineer was sentenced on Wednesday to 40 years in prison for leaking a trove of classified files to Wikileaks in what prosecutors described as the biggest theft of classified information in CIA history.

Joshua Schulte, 35, was also convicted for possession of child sexual abuse images and videos with prosecutors labeling him as a “traitor and predator.”

The bulk of the sentence imposed on Schulte in Manhattan federal court came for an embarrassing public release of a trove of CIA secrets by WikiLeaks in 2017.

 A jury reached the guilty verdict against Joshua Schulte on Wednesday, July 13, 2022 in federal court in Manhattan.  (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

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The so-called Vault 7 leak revealed how the CIA hacked Apple and Android smartphones in overseas spying operations, and efforts to turn internet-connected televisions into listening devices. Prior to his arrest, Schulte had helped create the hacking tools as a coder at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, prosecutors said.

Schulte transmitted the stolen CIA files to WikiLeaks, using anonymizing tools recommended by WikiLeaks to potential leakers, such as the Tails operating system and the Tor browser.

On March 7, 2017, WikiLeaks began publishing classified data from the “Stolen CIA Files.” Between March and November 2017, there were a total of 26 disclosures of classified data from the Stolen CIA Files that WikiLeaks denominated as Vault 7 and Vault 8.

The WikiLeaks disclosures were one of the largest unauthorized disclosures of classified information in the history of the U.S. and profoundly damaged the CIA’s ability to collect foreign intelligence against America’s adversaries, the Department of Justice said. The leaks also placed CIA personnel, programs, and assets directly at risk and cost the CIA hundreds of millions of dollars, the department said. 

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“Joshua Schulte betrayed his country by committing some of the most brazen, heinous crimes of espionage in American history,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said:

“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.  When the FBI caught him, Schulte doubled down and tried to cause even more harm to this nation by waging what he described as an ‘information war’ of publishing top secret information from behind bars.”  

Julian Assange

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange greets supporters outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, May 19, 2017.  (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Last fall, he was convicted in the case over the child sexual abuse images, which originated when a computer that Schulte possessed after he left the CIA and moved to New York from Virginia was found to contain the images and videos that he had downloaded from the internet from 2009 to March 2017.

On the desktop computer, 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” including the rape and sexual abuse of children as young as two years old, as well as images of bestiality and sadomasochism.  

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“Schulte collected thousands upon thousands of videos and images of children being subjected to sickening abuse for his own personal gratification,” Williams said.

“The outstanding investigative work of the FBI and the career prosecutors in this office unmasked Schulte for the traitor and predator that he is and made sure that he will spend 40 years behind bars – right where he belongs.”

Prosecutors alleged Schulte was motivated to orchestrate the leaks because he believed the CIA had disrespected him by ignoring his complaints about the work environment. Therefore, he tried “to burn to the ground” the very work he had helped the agency to create, they said.

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A former CIA software engineer was sentenced to 40 years in prison for leaking documents to Wikileaks and having thousands of child porn images (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

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While behind bars awaiting trial, prosecutors said he continued his crimes by trying to leak additional classified materials as he carried on an “information war” against the government.

A mistrial was declared at Schulte’s original 2020 trial after jurors were deadlocked on the most serious counts, including illegal gathering and transmission of national defense information. 

Schulte has been held behind bars without bail since 2018. In 2021, he complained in court papers that he was a victim of cruel and unusual punishment, awaiting two trials in solitary confinement inside a vermin-infested cell of a jail unit where inmates are treated like “caged animals.”

Fox News’ Danielle Wallace and The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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