A man convicted of carrying out one of the most damaging data breaches in the CIA’s history — the public disclosure of secret hacking tools — was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison Thursday, prosecutors said.
Former CIA officer Joshua Adam Schulte, 35, was convicted of the so-called Vault 7 leak, and also of possessing child sexual abuse images, in two trials in 2022 and 2023.
Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, said Thursday that Schulte betrayed his country.
“He caused untold damage to our national security in his quest for revenge against the CIA for its response to Schulte’s security breaches while employed there,” Williams said in a statement after the sentence was imposed.
Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence.
Schulte, who left the CIA in 2016, “stands convicted of some of the most heinous, brazen violations of the Espionage Act in American history,” prosecutors said in their sentencing memo to the judge, adding that he stole “an arsenal of extremely sensitive intelligence-gathering cyber-tools” from the CIA and handed it to WikiLeaks, “which in turn publicized it to America’s adversaries” in 2017.
The defense asked for nine years, saying that Schulte has been “subjected to continuous torture” during his six-year confinement since his arrest, and calling him “a bright, kind young man” whose crimes “represent aberrant behavior in an otherwise law-abiding life.”
Schulte’s attorney, César de Castro, said they hoped for a lighter sentence but were relieved the 40-year sentence was not longer.
“We are very disappointed that Mr. Schulte received 40 years imprisonment, however, relieved that he did not receive life imprisonment as strongly urged by the government,” he said.
In a letter to the court, Deputy CIA Director David Cohen called the leak “one of the largest unauthorized disclosures of classified information in the history of the United States” and said it caused “exceptionally grave harm to U.S. national security.”
He said the leak “placed directly at risk CIA personnel, programs, and assets.”
Evidence at the trial showed Schulte worked for an elite CIA hacking unit, became disgruntled at work and may have leaked the material in a spiteful attempt to lash back at his colleagues.
After being caught, prosecutors say, Schulte declared what he called “my information war,” and “attempted to disclose even more classified information from jail in flagrant defiance of numerous warnings and a court order.”
Before and after his arrest, prosecutors say, “Schulte fed an abhorrent personal fixation through his collection and viewing of an enormous trove of child sexual abuse materials.”
Approximately 3,400 images and videos were found of what the U.S. attorney’s office described as “disturbing and horrific” sex abuse images of children. They were among other images hidden under layers of encryption on a personal computer, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
After Schulte’s prison term, he will be on supervised release for life, the prosecutor’s office said.