A former CIA software engineer was convicted Wednesday of federal charges accusing him of the biggest theft of classified information in CIA history.
Joshua Schulte, who chose to defend himself at a New York City retrial, had told jurors in closing arguments that the CIA and FBI made him a scapegoat for an embarrassing public release of a trove of CIA secrets by WikiLeaks in 2017.
Schulte watched without visibly reacting as U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman announced the guilty verdict on nine counts, which was reached in mid-afternoon by a jury that had deliberated since Friday.
The so-called Vault 7 leak revealed how the CIA hacked Apple and Android smartphones in overseas spying operations, and efforts to turn internet-connected televisions into listening devices. Prior to his arrest, Schulte had helped create the hacking tools as a coder at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
A sentencing date was not immediately set because Schulte still awaits trial on charges of possessing and transporting child pornography. He has pleaded not guilty.
Attorney Sabrina Shroff, who advised Schulte during the trial, told Schulte’s mother after the verdict that the outcome was a “kick to the gut, the brain and heart.” It was unclear if Shroff was expressing her own sentiments or Schulte’s.
In his closing, Schulte claimed he was singled out even though “hundreds of people had access to (the information). … Hundreds of people could have stolen it.”
“The government’s case is riddled with reasonable doubt,” he added. “There’s simply no motive here.”
Prosecutors alleged the 33-year-old Schulte was motivated to orchestrate the leak because he believed the CIA had disrespected him by ignoring his complaints about the work environment. So he tried “to burn to the ground” the very work he had helped the agency to create, they said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Denton encouraged jurors to consider evidence of an attempted cover-up, including a list of chores Schulte drew up that had an entry reading, “Delete suspicious emails.”
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement that Schulte was convicted of “one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history.”
Williams said Schulte, motivated by resentment toward the CIA, leaked to the public and to U.S. adversaries some of the nation’s “most valuable intelligence-gathering cyber tools used to battle terrorist organizations and other malign influences around the globe.”
The prosecutor said Schulte knew the leak would render the CIA’s tools “essentially useless, having a devastating effect on our intelligence community by providing critical intelligence to those who wish to do us harm.”
While behind bars awaiting trial, prosecutors said he continued his crimes by trying to leak additional classified materials as he carried on an “information war” against the government.
Once the jury left the courtroom for deliberations, the judge complimented Schulte on his closing argument.
“Mr. Schulte, that was impressively done,” Furman said. “Depending on what happens here, you may have a future as a defense lawyer.”
A mistrial was declared at Schulte’s original 2020 trial after jurors deadlocked on the most serious counts, including illegal gathering and transmission of national defense information. Schulte told the judge last year that he wanted to serve as his own attorney for the retrial.
He has not announced whether he wants to represent himself at his next trial, which involves allegations that after leaving the CIA, Schulte moved to New York from Virginia with a computer that contained images and videos of child pornography he had downloaded from the internet from 2009 to March 2017.
Schulte has been held behind bars without bail since 2018. Last year, he complained in court papers that he was a victim of cruel and unusual punishment, awaiting the two trials in solitary confinement inside a vermin-infested cell of a jail unit where inmates are treated like “caged animals.”