U.S. officials have identified a former CIA software engineer as the primary suspect in a massive leak of the spy agency’s documents last year. Joshua Adam Schulte, who designed computer code to spy on foreign adversaries for the CIA, is believed to have leaked thousands of documents last year revealing CIA programs and tools that are capable of hacking into both Apple and Android cellphones. WikiLeaks published over 8,000 pages of documents in March 2017 under the name “Vault 7,” calling it the largest leak of secret CIA documents in history.
The loss of hacking tools to WikiLeaks was one of the most damaging breaches in modern history, experts have said, and includes hacking tools that can be used against private companies. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange crowed that the CIA had “lost control” of its entire arsenal of cyber weapons, and experts said the leak has done major damage to U.S. intelligence gathering.
The suspect, Joshua Adam Schulte, a 29-year-old New York resident, is currently in a Manhattan federal jail on child pornography charges, which he denies. Prosecutors have not brought charges against Schulte for the leak despite months of investigation. Schulte was originally charged in August 2017 with the receipt, possession, and transportation of child pornography. According to the charging document, Schulte had a 54GB encrypted section of a hard drive that depicted children — possibly as young as two years old — involved in sex acts. His lawyer Jacob Kaplan has argued that others had access to the drive.
Schulte fell under suspicion a week after WikiLeaks published the documents and authorities seized his passport and later searched his Manhattan apartment. The search “failed to provide the evidence that prosecutors needed to indict Schulte with illegally giving the information to WikiLeaks.” Instead, the Justice Department charged him with possession of child pornography, allegedly discovered on a server he built in 2009 while attending University of Texas. His attorneys described him as a computer scientist and analyst who interned at the National Security Agency and the CIA. He was later employed there for more than five years, focusing on combating “domestic and international terrorism.”
Schulte’s brother Jason said that “what the government is doing to him is wrong. They are screwing him over.” Jason Schulte said he and his brother had planned to go to Cancun together on vacation, but then the FBI raided Joshua’s apartment. The FBI searched Schulte’s apartment in New York last year and seized personal computer equipment, notebooks, and hand-written notes, court records say. Jason said that the porn images on the computer were not his brother’s and were put there by someone else. He said others had access to the server.
Authorities also found images on Schulte’s phone of an unnamed woman being sexually assaulted while “passed out on the floor” of his bathroom. The photos were reportedly taken in April 2015 in Loudoun County, Virginia, and the woman was identified as a former roommate of Schulte’s.
Kaplan argued that the information the government used to obtain the warrant was inaccurate. “What I think is important for the Court is, in April or May 2017, the government had full access to his computers and his phone, and they found the child pornography in this case, but what they didn’t find was any connection to the WikiLeaks investigation,” he said. A federal prosecutor told the court that Top Secret material was found on Schulte’s computer.