A former CIA employee believed to be a major WikiLeaks source has been charged in the biggest public leak in the agency’s history.
Joshua Schulte, 29, believed to be behind the WikiLeaks “Vault 7” disclosures of 2017, in which the site spent months slowly leaking CIA hacking tools, had previously been charged with possession of child pornography.
WikiLeaks published the Vault 7 disclosures in 25 increments from March through November 2017. The disclosures themselves didn’t reveal shocking spy powers, but they were a major embarrassment for the agency. In one release, WikiLeaks claimed that the CIA had developed a means to “bypass” the encrypted chat app Signal. The agency hadn’t actually compromised Signal itself but had noted in internal documents that hacking such an app wasn’t necessary if the agency could hack a phone itself — a technique commonly deployed among the world’s elite hackers.
If convicted of all charges, Schulte could face a maximum of 135 years in prison.
Among the charges are 10 counts of willfully distributing copyrighted materials — the same charge generally leveled against someone who posts movies, TV shows, or music files.
WikiLeaks, which has a formal policy of not naming its sources, responded to the news by retweeting last year’s biggest Vault 7 leaks.
Schulte online claimed to be a libertarian, took a photo of himself with a glass with the text “fuck Obama” on it, and repeatedly used racist slurs in chats.
He was a member of the CIA's Engineering Development Group, which built hacking tools deployed overseas. A former CIA coworker of Schulte’s, who requested be unnamed because he wasn’t authorized to speak about agency matters, told BuzzFeed News that Schulte had had problems getting along with his coworkers.
“He thought he was smarter and better than everyone else, sort of a ‘I’ll show them!’ attitude," the former coworker said.
Describing Schulte as a person who had developed “a grudge” against the agency, the former coworker said that he was not surprised to learn that he'd been accused of leaking to WikiLeaks. “I wouldn’t expect him to have any allegiance to WikiLeaks other than as an expedient way to do something big,” the former coworker said.
“We are grateful to the Department of Justice, and others throughout the government, who worked diligently to bring this indictment in connection with a grave breech of national security,” a CIA spokesperson said in a statement.
This story has been updated to include CIA comment.