Ex-CIA officer and WikiLeaks source sentenced to 40 years for largest breach in agency history

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Joshua Adam Schulte was found to have abused administrative privileges and secretly transmitted the documents in 2016.

Former CIA cyber intelligence officer Joshua Adam Schulte was sentenced to 40 years in prison for possessing child sexual abuse material and his role in the Vault 7 leaks in which he transmitted classified CIA data to WikiLeaks, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

The data troves, which were released in a multipart series on WikiLeaks, contained documents that detailed the agency’s hacking capabilities and activities, including orders purportedly showing that signal intelligence operatives had spied on the 2012 French presidential election.

“Mr. Schulte severely harmed U.S. national security and directly risked the lives of CIA personnel, persisting in his efforts even after his arrest,” DOJ National Security Division Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said in a statement.

Schulte was convicted in 2022 for illegally transmitting the files. A March 2017 FBI investigation into the incident found that he was also in possession of photos and videos of child abuse material in his home in New York, which led to conviction in a separate trial.

He worked as a software developer in the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence branch responsible for offensive cyber operations and espionage activities from 2012 to 2016, eventually working his way up into an administrative role amid disputes with another developer.

Schulte secretly granted himself administrative privileges after leadership determined he had abused administrator power and exfiltrated a batch of files and backups, including CCI’s tool development archives, before deleting logs and reverting the network back to its original state in an attempt to cover up his tracks.

He sent the stolen cache to WikiLeaks in May 2016. Nearly a year later, the site, known for hosting troves of sensitive and classified materials, published the contents in 26 separate disclosures.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is himself in jail in London, waiting on appeals fighting extradition to the U.S., where he is wanted on criminal charges under the Espionage Act arising from the 2010 publication of a trove of U.S. diplomatic cables.