A former CIA hacker, Joshua Schulte was found guilty of stealing national defense information and then leaking it to WikiLeaks. A U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor Damian Williams called Schulte’s leak, which was dubbed Vault 7 by WikiLeaks, “one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history,” a leak that included “some of our most critical intelligence tools known to the public and, therefore, our adversaries.”
According to the New York Times, a jury in Manhattan convicted him of all the nine counts he was facing, which together could carry a sentence of 80 years in prison.
The case stems from a 2017 leak, when thousands of documents were beginning to be published by WikiLeaks, along with some source code of CIA hacking tools.
Information on unknown software vulnerabilities was included in the leak called zero-days in cybersecurity lingo—for iOS, Android, Microsoft Windows, and Samsung smart TVs. The inclusion of source code in the leak was highly controversial. Initially, WikiLeaks promised to alert the tech companies involved to help them fix the bugs, after withholding it, but was slow to reach out to them, but eventually published some of it. Also, curious information was included in the leak, like the fact that the CIA had called a hacking tool Aeris, after the Final Fantasy VII character, and a CIA repository of emoticons.
Simply, the leak was a treasure trove of CIA information.
The leak made a former colleague of Schulte sick to her “stomach,” as she said, saying that the “information getting out into a forum like that can hurt people and impact our mission. It’s a huge loss to the organization.”
The CIA’s Deputy Director for Digital Innovation when Schulte was working at the agency, Sean Roche called the leak the “equivalent of a digital Pearl Harbor,” arguing that the CIA had to shut down “the vast, vast majority” of operations while it was evaluating the damage caused by the leak.
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Roche said when he testified in court: “It immediately undermined the relationships we had with other parts of the government as well as with vital foreign partners, who had often put themselves at risk to assist the agency. And it put our officers and our facilities, both domestically and overseas, at risk.”
According to Schute’s former colleagues, Schulte was more motivated by hatred of the CIA and to spite his former colleagues, unlike Chelsea Manning, who in 2010 gave WikiLeaks thousands of secret documents pertaining to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars because she wanted the public to know of war crimes and change how people looked at those wars.
Another federal case for Schulte, who had really bad OPSEC, is still pending for possession of child exploitation material, which the feds allege Schulte had on his laptop when they raided his apartment.