Vault 7 CIA Breach: Former Engineer Charged With Giving Documents to WikiLeaks

Federal prosecutors have charged a new suspect in the WikiLeaks breach, known as Vault 7. The former software engineer, Joshua Schulte, now stands accused for his involvement in what the CIA considers one of the worst losses of classified documents in the agency’s history. According to The New York Times, government investigators have long suspected he provided WikiLeaks with a stolen archive of documents. However, they did not initially charge him with that crime.

WikiLeaks first began to post the stolen CIA documents in 2016. The breach then set off a huge manhunt to identify the individuals behind it. “The American public should be deeply troubled by any WikiLeaks disclosure designed to damage the intelligence community’s ability to protect America against terrorists and other adversaries,” the CIA said, in a statement.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The breach reveals security concerns

However, despite the scale of the breach, it didn’t really affect most Americans. Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute, said WikiLeaks initially exaggerated the danger to civil liberties from the CIA hacking tools. He explained that those actually intended to target only small numbers of high-priority targets.

The expert called the Vault 7 tools “creative but not really special” and designed for “very targeted espionage.” He said we should really worry about the possibility of the leak, not what it contained. That proves a failure in heightened security imposed after Edward Snowden shared hundreds of thousands of classified National Security Agency documents.

The NSA carries out most of the government’s cyberespionage. However, the CIA does employ some hackers. The leaked Vault 7 documents came from the agency’s Engineering Development Group and included descriptions and instructions for the use of agency hacking tools. However, only a small amount of actual code came out.

“Somebody managed to walk out with a huge amount of secret data from a CIA facility,” Weaver told The New York Times. He also considered identifying the leaker “very reassuring.”

Who is Schulte?

According to his family and his LinkedIn page, Schulte started out as an intern at the NSA while working on a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. He then moved on to the CIA’s Engineering Development Group. There, he helped design the hacking tools used by its Center for Cyber Intelligence. He left the agency in November 2016, to work for Bloomberg L.P. as a software engineer.

When the WikiLeaks first released its documents, FBI agents searched Schulte’s apartment. The New York Times reports that they stopped him from leaving the country and took his passport. The search warrant application said they suspected Schulte of “distribution of national defense information.” Agents also told the court they retrieved NSA and CIA paperwork, as well as electronics.

Instead of charging him for the WikiLeaks breach, prosecutors initially booked Schulte for possessing child pornography. Agents found 10,000 illicit images on a server he created as a business in 2009, as an undergraduate. After violating the terms of his parole, the courts remanded Schulte to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.

What did he do?

His family and friends call Schulte something of a scapegoat, The New York Times explained. “As the evidence is flushed out, it will become clear that Mr. Schulte is hardly the villain the government makes him out to be,” his public defender, Sabrina P. Shroff said.

The newest indictment accuses him of repeatedly violating the Espionage Act. According to federal court documents, Schulte illegally obtained classified information in 2016 and then provided it to WikiLeaks, which posted it online. Prosecutors also charged him with transmitting malicious computer code and improperly gaining access to a government computer system. He allegedly granted himself access to it and tried to conceal his movements. He also stands accused of copyright infringement.

The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, also faces charges. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has also called arresting Assange a priority for the Justice Department. Assange, who calls himself a journalist, could use that charge to make prosecution more difficult. While Schulte remains in custody, Assange continues to live in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. He fled there in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape accusations. Last year, Sweden also announced it no longer intended to extradite him.

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