Joshua Schulte, a former programmer with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has been found guilty of leaking a trove of classified hacking tools and exploits dubbed Vault 7 to WikiLeaks.
The 33-year-old engineer had been charged in June 2018 with unauthorized disclosure of classified information and theft of classified material. Schulte also faces a separate trial on charges related to possession of child pornographic photos and videos, for which he was arrested on August 24, 2017.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement that Schulte was convicted for “one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history,” adding his actions had a “devastating effect on our intelligence community by providing critical intelligence to those who wish to do us harm.”
WikiLeaks would go on to release the documents on March 7, 2017, calling it the “largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.” This included an arsenal of “malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized ‘zero-day’ exploits, malware remote control systems, and associated documentation.”
The files, dating from 2013 to 2016, also detailed the agency’s ability to compromise cars, smart TVs, web browsers, and widely-used desktop and mobile operating systems such as Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS as part of its overseas spying operations to gather intel.
At least 91 tools, developed by the Operations Support Branch (OSB) of the elite hacking unit, are said to have been compromised following the leak to the whistleblowing platform.
The Associated Press reported that prosecutors argued Schulte orchestrated the leak as retribution for disrespecting and ignoring his complaints about the work environment. 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.”
In a fascinating profile about Schulte last month, The New Yorker painted the picture of a disgruntled employee, describing him as “abrasive,” “opinionated,” and “obstreperous” during his time at the agency until November 2016, when he resigned and joined Bloomberg.
Schulte, who has been residing at the Metropolitan Detention Center ahead of the trial, has compared his confinement conditions to a “torture cage” and as something “below that of impoverished persons living in third world countries.” He is also said to have converted to Islam, observing a month of daytime fasting during Ramadan.
“Joshua Adam Schulte was a CIA programmer with access to some of the country’s most valuable intelligence-gathering cyber tools used to battle terrorist organizations and other malign influences around the globe,” Williams said.
“When Schulte began to harbor resentment toward the CIA, he covertly collected those tools and provided them to WikiLeaks, making some of our most critical intelligence tools known to the public – and therefore, our adversaries.”