Ex-CIA software engineer in WikiLeaks case gets 40 years in prison
Former CIA software engineer Joshua Schulte was sentenced on Feb. 1, 2024, to 40 years in prison and a lifetime of probation for espionage and computer hacking, among other charges, according to court documents reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Schulte had been convicted in July 2022 of leaking classified materials to WikiLeaks, in violation of the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, after earlier proceedings had ended in a hung jury. He was also convicted at a separate trial in September 2023 of receipt, possession and transportation of child sexual abuse images.
The court sentenced Schulte to 33 years and four months for the espionage and hacking charges, with the remainder for the conviction over the child sexual abuse images.
The U.S. government argued that Schulte’s actions were “some of the most heinous, brazen violations of the Espionage Act in American history.” It said he had shared “an arsenal of extremely sensitive intelligence-gathering cyber-tools from the Central Intelligence Agency [with WikiLeaks] which in turn publicized it to America’s adversaries.” His actions warranted a life sentence, the government maintained.
At the sentencing, U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman said that Schulte’s actions amounted to a “digital Pearl Harbor” that caused “untold damage to national security,” it was reported by The New York Times. According to an Associated Press account, the judge added that Schulte was “not driven by any sense of altruism,” but instead was “motivated by anger, spite and perceived grievance” against other agency workers.
Chip Gibbons, policy director at the grassroots advocacy organization Defending Rights & Dissent, warned in an emailed comment to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the sentencing for the leaking charges “constitutes a dramatic escalation in sentencing of unauthorized disclosures [and] represents a potentially dramatic shift in how they [the government] view disclosures to WikiLeaks.”
Added Gibbons: “Using an isolated and unpopular defendant, the government has dramatically expanded its arsenal against media sources.”
Obstruction charge dropped for former CIA staffer in WikiLeaks case
A U.S. district judge dropped the obstruction charge but upheld four counts of espionage and four counts of computer hacking against former CIA software engineer Joshua Schulte on Aug. 29, 2023, according to court documents reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Schulte was convicted in July 2022 of leaking classified materials to WikiLeaks, in violation of the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, after earlier proceedings had ended in a hung jury. After the conviction, Schulte, representing himself, moved for acquittal, arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support it.
The judge ruled that there was ample evidence to sustain the espionage and computer hacking charges, but that Schulte’s false statements to law enforcement agents did not constitute obstruction of justice, because he made them without intending to obstruct a grand jury.
Schulte was also convicted at a separate trial on Sept. 13 of receipt, possession and transportation of child sexual abuse images.
Former CIA engineer convicted for violations of the Espionage Act, other charges in leak investigation
Former NSA and CIA staffer Joshua Schulte was convicted on the nine counts remaining against him, including violating the Espionage Act, on July 13, 2022, stemming from WikiLeaks’ publication of a cache of classified CIA documents in 2017.
A grand jury indicted Schulte for violations of the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in June 2018, but a federal judge declared a mistrial in March 2020. Schulte has maintained his innocence and argued during his retrial that he was a scapegoat, according to The Associated Press.
“They first singled me out as the guilty party then worked backward,” Schulte, who chose to represent himself at the retrial, said of federal investigators in his opening statement in June 2022.
The jury returned a guilty verdict on nine counts after more than three days of deliberations, the AP reported. According to the outlet, a sentencing date has not been set as Schulte awaits trial on additional charges of possessing and transporting child pornography.
Former CIA agent begins retrial on Espionage Act, other charges
The retrial of a former NSA and CIA staffer on charges including violating the Espionage Act began on June 14, 2022.
In March 2017, federal officers raided the apartment of Joshua Schulte and seized his computer as part of an investigation into the leak of classified cyberespionage tools to WikiLeaks. Schulte was arrested that August on other charges based on information found on his devices and was ultimately denied bail.
A grand jury indicted Schulte for violations of the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act on June 18, 2018. Schulte has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Shulte’s trial on his leak-related charges began on Feb. 4, 2020, but a federal judge declared a mistrial on March 9 after the jury notified the court that they were “aligned on two counts” but were “at an impasse on the remaining counts,” Courthouse News Service reported.
According to court filings reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the jury only found Schulte guilty of lying to the FBI and contempt of court. The judge therefore granted Schulte’s motion for a mistrial on the remaining counts — which included illegal gathering and transmission of national defense information, unauthorized access to a computer to obtain classified information and theft of government property.
A retrial of the eight most serious counts against Schulte began in June 2022. Courthouse News Service reported that Schulte, who is now representing himself, told jurors that the government’s case against him has been “a political witch hunt since day one.”
According to Courthouse News Service, the retrial is expected to last five or six weeks.
On March 7, 2017, WikiLeaks began publishing classified documents that detailed hacking tools and techniques used by the CIA. Later that month, as part of an investigation into the leak, federal agents raided Schulte’s apartment and seized his computer.
On August 24, 2017, Schulte was arrested on federal child pornography charges, after federal investigators discovered evidence of child pornography on one of Schulte’s computers that had been seized in the raid. At the time, Schulte was not charged with leaking any classified information.
On June 18, 2018, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment against Schulte. The indictment accuses Schulte of sending classified CIA material to WikiLeaks, in violation of the Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. It also restates the earlier child pornography charges and further accuses him of copyright infringement (for allegedly running a server that stored pirated movies), obstruction of justice, and lying to federal agents.
Schulte is the latest person to be criminally prosecuted in connection with an investigation into classified leaks.
In June 2017, NSA contractor Reality Winner was charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly sending a classified document to The Intercept.
In March 2018, former FBI agent Terry Albury was charged under the Espionage Act for allegedly sharing with The Intercept a number of classified FBI documents that instruct agents on how to cultivate informants and surveil journalists.
In May 2018, former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe was charged with lying to federal agents about his communication with journalists. Wolfe has not been charged with leaking any classified information to journalists, though he was interviewed by federal agents as part of an investigation into classified leaks.