A former CIA software engineer, Joshua Schulte, was handed a 40-year prison sentence on Thursday for his involvement in what the government deemed the most significant theft of classified information in CIA history and for possession of child sexual abuse materials.
The majority of the sentence, imposed in a Manhattan federal court, was linked to the embarrassing public disclosure of CIA secrets by WikiLeaks in 2017, known as the Vault 7 leak.
This leak exposed the CIA’s techniques for hacking Apple and Android smartphones in overseas spying operations and attempting to convert internet-connected televisions into listening devices.
Schulte, who had a role in creating the hacking tools while working at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, was arrested in 2018 and has been in custody since.
Judge Jesse M. Furman, while announcing the sentence, expressed doubt that the full extent of the damage caused by Schulte’s actions would ever be known but emphasized that it was likely massive.
The leak severely impacted the CIA’s ability to gather foreign intelligence, put personnel and assets at risk, and cost the agency hundreds of millions of dollars.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David William Denton Jr. argued for a life sentence, stating that Schulte was responsible for the most damaging disclosures of classified information in American history.
In response, Schulte complained about the harsh conditions in jail, referring to his cell as his “torture cage” and claimed that prosecutors had previously offered him a plea deal for a 10-year sentence. He argued that it was unjust for them to now seek a life term, as he rejected the deal due to the requirement to relinquish his right to appeal.
However, Judge Furman criticized Schulte’s lack of remorse and acceptance of responsibility. He mentioned that Schulte’s crimes continued even from behind bars, where he attempted to leak more classified materials and maintained a hidden file on his computer containing 2,400 images of child sexual abuse.
CIA Deputy Director David S. Cohen, in a letter to the court, described Schulte’s crimes as causing “exceptionally grave harm to U.S. national security and the CIA.” He highlighted the heavy costs inflicted on the United States by Schulte’s actions.
Schulte faced a mistrial in his initial 2020 trial, but he was convicted in a July 2022 trial on charges related to the classified leak. In a subsequent trial last fall, he was convicted for possession of child sexual abuse images. The judge stated that the bulk of the 40-year sentence was for the CIA theft, with six years and eight months attributed to the child sexual abuse materials.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams asserted that Schulte had betrayed his country by committing espionage crimes and attempting to cause harm by waging an “information war” from behind bars after his arrest.