Hard drives in accused CIA leaker's case were 'misplaced' after jailhouse search, prosecutors say

The Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City (Wikicommons).

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Months after the government accused a former CIA computer engineer of leaking government secrets from behind bars, prosecutors said hard drives containing discovery materials in the case somehow have been “misplaced.”

The announcement is the latest complication in a case that only has become more convoluted since it entered the public consciousness. The government said it intends to provide the defendant, Joshua Schulte, with a reproduction of the unclassified material.

Prosecutors have accused Schulte, a former software engineer, of providing WikiLeaks with an archive of stolen documents — known as the Vault 7 files — detailing the agency’s surveillance and hacking capabilities.

In a Feb. 12 court filing, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman told Judge Paul Crotty “the government has consulted with the [New York City’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, where Schulte is being held] and understand that the hard drives containing the defendant’s discovery were misplaced.” The government, as a result, said it plans to provide Schulte with another copy of the discovery materials in a reproduction that will “include all of the unclassified discovery produced to date except for a copy of the defendant’s server, which requires a very large storage device for reproduction.”

The hard drives aren’t the only hardware that has become important to the case. Prosecutors said Schulte was caught last year with multiple contraband mobile phones when his jail cell was searched in October. Schulte used approximately 13 email and social media accounts on those devices to “communicate clandestinely with third parties outside of the MCC,” prosecutors said at the time.

The government alleged Schulte sent classified material “to his family members for the purpose of dissemination to other this parties, including members of the media.”

It was not immediately clear whether the government intends to provide Schulte with discovery material that may have been included on phones he previously had in his cell.

Berman also objected to a request from Schulte seeking unredacted copies of classified discovery material.

Prosecutors first charged Schulte in 2017 with storing child pornography before indicting him last year with repeated violations of the Espionage Act. The government says Schulte provided classified material to WikiLeaks, accessed sensitive government systems and used malicious computer code.

Schulte had pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, and his lawyer told the New York Times last year “it will become clear that Mr. Schulte is hardly the villain the government makes him out to be.”

The Vault 7 series included more than 8,000 documents and has proven to be an embarrassment to the government. Schulte worked in the CIA’s Engineering Development Group, which created the hacking tools for the Center for Cyber Intelligence, before he accepted a job at Bloomberg in 2016, the Times reported.

The leak came seven months after the publication of U.S. National Security Agency hacking tools by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers.

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CIA, joshua schulte, legal, Vault 7, WikiLeaks
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