Joshua Schulte has been convicted of sending the CIA’s “Vault 7” cyber-warfare tools to the whistle-blowing platform. He had denied the allegations since he was originally charged. He was convicted on July 13, 2022, at retrial on nine counts related to illegal handling of classified information and obstruction of justice, no sentencing date has been set yet for the charges. Arrested in 2018, his trial began in February of 2020 where federal prosecutors asserted “the single biggest leak of classified national defense information in the history of the CIA” to take revenge on his former colleagues and bosses. Schulte’s lead defense attorney, Sabrina Shroff, told jurors that her client was “a pain in the ass to everyone at the CIA,” but argued that “Being a difficult employee does not make you a criminal.” Schulte pleaded not guilty. After weeks of testimony and deliberation the jury convicted him two counts: contempt of court and making false statements to the FBI. However, jurors were deadlocked on eight other counts, including the most serious of illegal gathering and transmission of national defense information. Although the judge declared a mistrial, the government chose to retry the case. Additionally, Schulte faced a separate federal trial on charges of possessing child pornography which ended with a hung jury.
Dubbed “Vault 7” the files and information that was published by WikiLeaks in 2017 exposed various ways, from 2013-2016, on how the CIA had used exploits and strategies to hack computers, iPhones, Androids, web browsers, cars, and Samsung smart TVs. Reportedly Schulte worked and built hacking tools by turning prototypes into exploits to steal and monitor from targeted devices. Investigators were able to access encrypted storage that they say showed his complicity, claimed by them to be a result of his own lacking password security on his phone. In the second trial Schulte opted to represent himself in court, he has not been sentenced pending other charges for possessing and transporting child pornography that federal investigators say they found on his computer that over 10,000 illegal images and videos depicting child pornography, claimed to be very brutal and sadistic in nature by investigators. After joining the CIA in 2010, Schulte soon achieved the organization’s highest security clearance. He went on to work at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Damian Williams, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Mr Schulte’s actions had “a devastating effect on our intelligence community by providing critical intelligence to those who wish to do us harm”. Reportedly the software engineer had been struggling to meet deadlines and Assistant US Attorney Michael Lockard said one of his projects was so far behind schedule that he had earned the nickname “Drifting Deadline”. The prosecutors said he wanted to punish those he perceived to have wronged him and said in “carrying out that revenge, he caused enormous damage to this country’s national security”.
Schulte said the government had no evidence that he was motivated by revenge and called the argument “pure fantasy”. In his closing argument, he claimed that “hundreds of people had access” to the leaked files and that “hundreds of people could have stolen it”. “The government’s case is riddled with reasonable doubt,” he added. Schulte claims he was a patsy for the leak because of his history with the agency.
Prosecutors had urged jurors to consider evidence of an attempted cover-up, including a list of chores Schulte made that contained an entry reading: “Delete suspicious emails.” Adding that after his arrest, Schulte attempted to transmit more information, smuggling a phone into jail where he attempted to send a reporter information about CIA cyber groups and drafted tweets that included information about CIA cyber tools under the name Jason Bourne, a fictional intelligence operative.
The conviction comes as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange faces extradition to the US over documents leaked in 2010 and 2011, which officials say broke the law and endangered lives.