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WikiLeaks CIA leaker had 2,400 ‘likely’ child sex abuse files on his jailhouse laptop, feds say

Joshua Schulte

Joshua Schulte, center, is seated at the defense table flanked by his attorneys during jury deliberations in New York in this March 4, 2020, courtroom sketch.(Elizabeth Williams via AP)

An ex-CIA engineer convicted of leaking the agency’s secret spying tools to WikiLeaks has been found with 2,400 “likely” child sexual abuse images on a laptop inside his federal lockup, federal prosecutors allege in a letter unsealed on Wednesday.

The allegations compound the legal woes of Joshua Adam Schulte since a federal jury found him guilty of Espionage Act violations and other charges related to the theft and transmission of the information. WikiLeaks ultimately published the trove under the banner “Vault 7,” showcasing the CIA’s abilities to conduct surveillance and cyber warfare. The files reportedly showed the agency’s ability to hack into browsers, Apple and Android smartphones, and turn internet-connected TVs into listening devices.

At the time of his trial, a federal judge severed Schulte’s charges over the disclosures from separate allegations related to child pornography. Prosecutors say in the recently-unsealed letter that authorities discovered the illicit images on the discovery computer that Schulte had been using to battle his charges. Authorities reviewed the materials seized pursuant to warrants issued in July and September 2022, according to the letter.

For more than half a year, the matter played out in secret court filings, filed under seal on Sept. 23, 2022, and Jan. 17, 2023.

Prosecutors have denied Schulte’s claim that the government “maliciously or inadvertently loaded onto the laptop” the child sexual abuse materials.

“Moreover, the Government did not copy discovery materials onto the defendant’s laptop,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys David W. Denton, Jr. and Michael D. Lockard wrote in the just-unsealed letter. “In 2021, former defense counsel copied discovery and trial materials onto the laptop, which was then reviewed by personnel from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for security compliance before making a file index and providing the laptop to the Metropolitan Correctional Center (‘MCC’), where the defendant was then in custody. The CSAM on the laptop was not provided by the Government or the result of Government action.”

As MCC later shuttered, Schulte is now locked up inside Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC).

Prosecutors say that they have an “ongoing investigation” into the matter.

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who has presided over his case, made the government’s allegations public on Wednesday.

“Given that Mr. Schulte is well aware of the ongoing investigation, that the laptop is already in the Government’s possession, and that this letter responds directly to assertions by Mr. Schulte, the Court sees no basis to keep this letter under seal,” Furman wrote in a brief order signed on Tuesday.

Furman gave prosecutors another opportunity to oppose making the letter public.

“Unless the Government shows good cause for why the letter should be maintained ex parte and under seal by noon tomorrow, the Court will docket it with this endorsement,” he added.

The letter hit the docket shortly after 12:30 p.m. ET.

This isn’t the first time that Schulte’s been accused of a security breach inside the MCC. In 2018, prosecutors alleged that Schulte had multiple contraband cellphones – including at least one heavily encrypted device – inside his cell there. The FBI also found roughly 13 email and social media accounts and other electronic devices that Schulte allegedly used to “communicate clandestinely with third parties outside of the MCC.”

Schulte’s attorney did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

Read the letter here.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."