A former Central Intelligence Agency employee has been identified in court as a suspect in the release of a trove of CIA hacking tools to the WikiLeaks website.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation suspects that a former Central Intelligence Agency employee separately charged with possessing child pornography had a role in the unauthorized release of a trove of CIA hacking tools to the WikiLeaks website last year, according to a court transcript.
The 8,000-plus pages of documents that WikiLeaks obtained in March 2017 detailed how the CIA breaks into computers, smartphones, messaging applications and television sets. The disclosure constituted one of the largest breaches of classified information in the agency’s history.
Investigators initially focused on outside contractors at the spy agency. They haven’t publicly charged anyone with the disclosures.
Joshua Schulte was charged in August by federal prosecutors in Manhattan with receiving, possessing and transporting child pornography. The FBI executed a search warrant on his New York residence on March 15, 2017, and found the pornographic videos, according to initial charges filed against Mr. Schulte.
He has pleaded not guilty to the pornography charges. Mr. Schulte’s lawyer, federal public defender Sabrina P. Shroff, declined to comment Tuesday. Officials at the FBI, the CIA and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York also declined to comment.
At a Jan. 8 court hearing in Manhattan, one of his then-lawyers said in court that the FBI had initially sought the warrant because it believed Mr. Schulte was involved in the WikiLeaks breach. Mr. Schulte held various positions within the CIA over the six years he worked there, including as a technical development officer.
“While the current indictment charges Mr. Schulte with child pornography, this case comes out of a much broader perspective,” the attorney, Jacob Kaplan, said at the January hearing, according to a transcript.
Referring to Mr. Schulte, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Laroche said at the hearing that the government “had enough evidence to establish that he was a target” of the investigation into the CIA leak. The investigation is ongoing, he said.
Mr. Kaplan stopped representing Mr. Schulte earlier this year, and he declined to comment Tuesday.
The FBI obtained search warrants for Mr. Schulte’s phone, computers and other items “in order to establish a connection between Mr. Schulte and the WikiLeaks leak,” Mr. Kaplan said at the hearing, adding that Mr. Schulte’s legal team believed the information the FBI used to get a judge to authorize the search warrant wasn’t accurate.
At the hearing, Mr. Kaplan also said the FBI didn’t find any evidence in the search connected to the WikiLeaks investigation, an allegation the government disputed.
The comments surfaced during a bail hearing in which Mr. Kaplan tried to appeal the judge’s previous decision to revoke Mr. Schulte’s earlier bail package. The hearing had gone unnoticed until the Washington Post reported on it Tuesday.
When WikiLeaks released the materials, it said the trove consisted of 8,761 documents and files from the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence. It called the unauthorized disclosure, which it dubbed Vault 7, the “largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency,” laying bare some of the CIA’s most sensitive secrets.