A prosecutor told a jury at the opening of an espionage trial Tuesday that an angry CIA employee got his vengeance by committing the agency’s biggest leak of classified information ever, but a defense lawyer said her client was innocent.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Denton pointed at 30-year-old Joshua Adam Schulte in a Manhattan courtroom as he blamed him for the massive leak of secrets that was published by WikiLeaks in March 2017.
“This case is about the single biggest leak of classified information in the history of the CIA,” Denton said.
The leak was “instantly devastating” to America’s interests abroad, he said, because it exposed CIA operatives, brought intelligence gathering to a halt and left allies wondering whether the U.S. could be trusted with sensitive information.
Years of work by the agency “went up in smoke,” he said. And he accused Schulte of continuing to try to leak secrets after his arrest from his jail cell by smuggling in a contraband cellphone and creating encrypted email and secret social media accounts.
“Joshua Schulte violated his oath to safeguard our country,” Denton said. “He did it because he was angry and disgruntled at work.”
Sabrina Shroff, Schulte’s defense lawyer, countered Denton’s arguments by portraying the CIA as inept at securing its most sensitive files and said Schulte was an “easy target” to try to blame because he “antagonized almost every person there” before quitting for a $200,000-a-year position at a company in New York.
Denton said Schulte, a software developer in an elite group at the CIA, worked in a building where armed guards were posted because “precious secrets of our armed defense” were kept there.
Software specialists like Schulte were tasked with exploiting vulnerabilities in the computer systems of U.S. adversaries, the prosecutor said.
But Shroff said that the information to which Schulte had access was so poorly protected that hundreds of CIA employees had access to it, and that it was vulnerable to outside contractors and even other countries.
“Everybody knew it wasn’t secure. It lacked controls,” she said. “It was wide open. It was called ‘the wild, wild West.’”
She mocked the CIA’s claim that the information was stolen a year before it was published, saying it was implausible that WikiLeaks “sat on that sensational, mind-blowing information for a year.”
And she said investigators have found no evidence that Schulte ever was in contact with WikiLeaks but would try to pin the embarrassing leak on him anyway.
“They are going to try to convince you Mr. Schulte is that person because that is all they have,” Shroff said. “The evidence simply does not show Mr. Schulte had anything to do with taking the information from the CIA and giving it to WikiLeaks.”
Schulte has been housed at the Metropolitan Correction Center, adjacent to federal court, since December 2017.