Joshua Schulte, the individual found guilty of orchestrating the most significant disclosure of classified material in CIA history, has been handed a 40-year prison sentence. The 35-year-old was convicted of providing WikiLeaks with a collection of CIA cyber espionage tools known as Vault 7, which federal prosecutors described as one of the most egregious violations of the Espionage Act in American history.
This sentencing comes after Schulte’s initial trial resulted in a hung jury, with his subsequent conviction in July 2022 for the illegal handling of classified information and obstruction of justice.
Revelations and Impact of the Leak
The leaked information, which WikiLeaks began publishing on March 7, 2017, exposed the CIA’s hacking of smartphones for espionage purposes and its efforts to transform internet-connected televisions into listening devices. The CIA stated that Schulte’s actions directly endangered CIA personnel, programs, and assets, posing a significant threat to U.S. national security. Federal prosecutors characterized the impact of the WikiLeaks disclosure as a “digital Pearl Harbor,” causing immediate and severe repercussions for the CIA.
Motivation and Additional Conviction
Prosecutors asserted that Schulte’s leak was not driven by altruistic motives but rather as an act of retaliation against superiors who had reassigned him, revoked some of his IT privileges, and criticized his increasingly confrontational behavior. In addition to the espionage-related charges, Schulte was also convicted in September of possessing child pornography, further contributing to the severity of his sentencing.
FBI’s Response and Concluding Remarks
Following the sentencing, FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith emphasized the gravity of Schulte’s actions, highlighting the betrayal of the country and the possession of disturbing and harmful child pornography. The imposed 40-year sentence reflects the significant threat posed by Schulte’s criminal conduct, encompassing both the betrayal of national security and the possession of illicit material.
The sentencing of Joshua Schulte marks the culmination of a high-profile case that has underscored the serious implications of unauthorized disclosures of classified information and the severe legal consequences for those found responsible.