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CIA ex-employee jailed for 40 years after biggest data leak in agency's history

CIA ex-employee jailed for 40 years after biggest data leak in agency's history Central Intelligence Agency (Getty Images)

Joshua Schulte, who used to work for the CIA, was given a 40-year prison sentence for leaking a huge amount of secret information on Wikileaks, a platform for revealing sensitive data. This was the biggest and boldest data leak in the CIA's history, according to prosecutors, CNN and BBC report.

In 2017, Schulte shared around 8,761 classified documents with Wikileaks, making it the biggest data breach in CIA history. The tools he leaked, called Vault 7, let intelligence agents hack into smartphones and listen to what happening nearby.

Even though he denied the charges, Schulte was found guilty in three different trials in New York in 2020, 2022, and 2023. He was sentenced for espionage, computer hacking, disrespecting the court, lying to the FBI, and possessing and sharing child pornography.

CIA ex-employee jailed for 40 years after biggest data leak in agency's historyJoshua Schulte (

“Joshua Schulte betrayed his country by committing some of the most brazen, heinous crimes of espionage in American history,” US Attorney Damian Williams stated. “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.”

Evidence presented during the trial showed that Schulte worked as a software developer at the Center for Cyber Intelligence, an agency that cyber spies against terrorist groups and other countries.

Prosecutors said he committed crimes out of anger over a dispute at work. He was having trouble meeting deadlines and even got a nickname, Drifting Deadline, because of delays in his projects. Investigators said Schulte was angry when the CIA wanted to hire someone else to build a cyber tool like the one he was making.

The leak, according to prosecutors, immediately harmed the CIA's ability to gather intelligence data, put CIA people and programs at risk, and cost the agency hundreds of millions of dollars.

Wikileaks said the data came from an anonymous source who wanted to question the CIA's hacking capabilities and authority.

After the Wikileaks data was published, the FBI questioned Schulte multiple times, and he denied being responsible. Schulte was arrested in 2017 for child pornography, being indicted for the data breach charges later.