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Government Accuses Former CIA Employee Of Using Contraband Phones To Leak From Prison

The United States government accused a former CIA employee charged with leaking to WikiLeaks of “brazen disclosure of classified information while incarcerated at the Metropolitan Correctional Center” in New York.

Already charged with violating the Espionage Act and other offenses, Josh Schulte was charged with two additional offenses—another alleged violation of the Espionage Act and an alleged violation of a protective order in his case.

Josh Schulte was charged on June 18 with thirteen offenses that included allegedly violating the Espionage Act by stealing classified information from the CIA. It also included a prior charge involving child pornography. They stem from his alleged leak of “Vault 7” files but Schulte maintains he did not leak the files.

In a letter from U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman to Judge Paul Crotty, the government claims [PDF], “In or about early October 2018, the government learned that Schulte was using one or more smuggled contraband cellphones to communicate clandestinely with third parties outside the MCC.”

“The government immediately commenced an investigation into Schulte’s conduct at the MCC,” Berman adds. “The FBI has searched, among other things, the housing unit at the MCC in which Schulte was detained; multiple contraband cellphones (including at least one cellphone used by Schulte that is protected by significant encryption); approximately 13 email and social media accounts (including encrypted email accounts); and other electronic devices.”

Prosecutors assert the “searched cellphones, email and social media accounts, and electronic devices were all used by Schulte”—and that agents discovered he was allegedly leaking from prison.

Notice of a superseding indictment came on October 31, two days after a handwritten letter to the judge alleging cruel and inhumane treatment in prison was publicly filed and then removed

The handwritten letter suggested prison guards would not allow him to contact his attorney, review discovery materials, or assist in his case and that these prohibitions were imposed on October 1, when he was moved in shackles to the “box” in MCC’s 9-South.

Prison authorities would not provide Schulte with any information about why he was put in isolation. Multiple requests for access to legal work, discovery materials, and to speak with his attorney were allegedly denied.

He described alleged brutality within the prison that he apparently witnessed and listed off examples of egregious conditions: “shit-filled showers, where you leave dirtier than when you entered; the flooding of the tiers and cages with ice-cold water; the constant blast of cold air as we are exposed to extreme cold without blankets or long-sleeve shirts; the uncontrollable lights that are always on as we are sleep deprived; the denial of books, radios, notebooks, and legal work as we are forced to do literally nothing as they torture us in our cages.”

When Schulte was moved to isolation, he was attempting to work with his attorney on securing bail.

“My suspicion is the government created some new fictitious ‘crime’ or ‘violation’ to obstruct justice and sabotage our response,” Schulte declared.

As it turns out, the government was preparing another couple of charges that prosecutors could file against him.

The government’s letter to the judge offers no indication as to what Schulte may have leaked. It also is unclear if the alleged leaking occurred when he was talking to his attorney or not. It is possible they are punishing him for not adhering to some draconian procedure that would allow them to engage in some semblance of monitoring of conversations with his attorney.

“Vault 7,” which was released by WikiLeaks in 2017, included over 8,000 files that were from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence.

The first batch, “Year Zero,” contained documents on the “CIA’s global covert hacking program, its malware arsenal and dozens of ‘zero day’ weaponized exploits against a wide range of U.S. and European company products, include Apple’s iPhone, Google’s Android and Microsoft’s Windows and even Samsung TVs, which are turned into covert microphones.”

However, at the end of June, Schulte insisted he could prove his innocence in a 137-page bail letter that he wrote to the judge.

Schulte argues “at least 20 people had access to the information leaked by WikiLeaks.” Yet, investigators insisted only three people could have access the data to help them meet an “arbitrary, artificial, and unrealistic deadline” for the case.

He claimed he could prove that the child pornography on his computer was the result of a “business he ran that provided storage space for his clients’ private data.”

Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."