Ex-CIA software engineer convicted in WikiLeaks scandal

A federal jury found Joshua Schulte guilty of leaking a trove of documents related to the CIA's ability to access computers and phones.

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Former CIA agent Joshua Schulte has been convicted by a federal jury for the largest theft of classified information in CIA history, a full five years after WikiLeaks leaked said documents. Schulte was convicted on nine counts relating to the illegal handling of classified information and obstruction of justice.

U.S. attorney Damian Williams called Schulte’s crimes “one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history,” The New York Times reports.

The leak, which is known as “Vault 7,” included many documents related to the CIA’s ability to compromise computer and phone systems for spying purposes. Schulte is essentially the reason the general public understands the extent of the CIA’s tech-based spying abilities.

Schulte’s defense — Though Schulte was only formally linked to the Vault 7 leak in 2018, he’s been detained at a correctional facility in New York City since late 2017. That’s because, during a March 2017 apartment search, investigators found a ton of child pornography on his hard drives. (Oof. More on that in a sec.)

A grand jury indicted Schulte on 13 counts in June 2018, with two more counts added in October. He was tried in early 2020 on 10 of those counts, but the jury in that trial only agreed upon two counts, neither of which actually pertained to the leaked documents. The judge declared a mistrial.

Schulte chose to defend himself at this year’s retrial, and most of his defense reportedly rested on his being a “scapegoat” for the CIA’s embarrassment at so many sensitive documents being leaked. He also argued that “hundreds of people” had access to the leaked information, any one of whom could have stolen the documents. “The government’s case is riddled with reasonable doubt,” he said in his closing arguments.

Still more to come — A sentencing date has not yet been set for Schulte, so in the meantime, he will continue to be held in the Manhattan facility where he’s resided since 2018. He has complained in the past that the facility has made him a victim of cruel and unusual punishment, the Associated Press reports.

Schulte isn’t quite done with his time in court, though. When police first raided Schulte’s apartment back in 2017, they found a computer containing approximately 10,000 images and videos of child pornography collected over the course of eight years. He will at some point face another federal trial for this; he hasn’t yet said whether or not he will defend himself in that case.

WikiLeaks remains online, though the site publishes far less frequently than it used to.