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Hacker convicted over largest data theft in CIA history — Analysis

The agency’s former employee says he’s been made a scapegoat for a massive WikiLeaks exposé

A former CIA software engineer has been convicted on all nine counts in a New York court, with jurors pronouncing him guilty of leaking sensitive data to Wikileaks in what is believed to be the largest breach in the agency’s history to date. He is currently awaiting sentencing. There will be another, separate trial.

Joshua Schulte was present when Jesse M. Furman (district judge) read out the guilty verdict. He had been charged with stealing and transmitting classified data, as well as obstruction.  

US media reports claim that the jury was deliberating from Friday until it made its final decision.

This case centers around WikiLeaks’ 2017 release of Vault 7. The Vault 7 was a WikiLeaks 2017 leak that revealed the methods the CIA used to hack Apple smartphones and Android phones, as well as smart TVs for overseas spying operations. The reveal became the largest leak in the US intelligence agency’s history.

The 33 year-old is currently in custody after he was taken into custody on August 2017 for child pornography allegations. Months later, data breach charges were brought against him.

In 2021, the former CIA employee complained in court papers that he was being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, awaiting the two trials in solitary confinement, claiming he and his other inmates were being treated like “Caged animals”  

Schulte had worked at the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, creating cyber tools capable of secretly grabbing data from computers. Prosecutors claim Schulte didn’t get along well with his management and coworkers. His higher-ups allegedly hired a contractor at one point to create a similar cyber tool to the one Schulte was building. The investigators said that this caused Schulte to feel resentful and eventually led him to steal and transmit cyber tools and source code to WikiLeaks. Schulte allegedly then tried to delete any trace of his access to the computers, before he quit the CIA in 2016.

US Attorney Damian Williams argued in a statement that Schulte “made some of our most critical intelligence tools known to the public – and therefore, our adversaries.” The official added that the man “For one of America’s most egregious and destructive acts of spying, he was sentenced.” 

In his closing statement, Schulte, who had chosen to defend himself, told jurors that the CIA and the FBI had merely made him a scapegoat for the embarrassing leak while “Access to the Internet was available for hundreds of people” the data and “It could be taken.”  

The former CIA employee insisted that the government’s case “It was filled with reasonable doubt.” with no clear motive established.

The presiding judge commended Schulte on his defense, saying that he “You may be able to make a living as a lawyer in defense.”  

The sentence has been delayed until later because Schulte faces another case on child pornography charges, which he has not pleaded guilty to.

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