CIA coder threatens to make his trial "maximally painful for the CIA"

The latest issue of The New Yorker has Patrick Radden Keefe's incredible story about Joshua Schulte, a former CIA coder who is threatening to expose CIA secrets if the government decides to pursue child pornography charges against him.

From a New Yorker press release:

In "King Josh," Patrick Radden Keefe unwinds the surreal case of Joshua Schulte, a disgruntled coder accused of exposing the C.I.A.'s digital arsenal, whose 2020 trial revealed great detail about life inside a top-secret C.I.A. unit. On March 7, 2017, the Web site WikiLeaks launched a series of disclosures that were catastrophic for the C.I.A. More than two billion pages' worth of data had been stolen from the agency—the single largest leak of classified information in the agency's history. The trove, billed as Vault 7, exposed the C.I.A.'s hacking methods. F.B.I. agents quickly zeroed in on the Operations Support Branch, the C.I.A.'s secret hacker unit, in which a cadre of élite engineers create cyberweapons. Keefe draws on the court testimony of several employees, who describe a frat-house vibe within the O.S.B. The coders were mostly young men, and they came up with nicknames for one another (one unit member, who got braces as an adult, became known as Train Tracks). They sometimes shared sensitive details on Post-it notes, and used passwords that were laughably weak, including 123ABCdef. Some O.S.B. guys brought Nerf guns to work, and they would occasionally shoot darts at one another from their desks. As the F.B.I. interviewed members of the O.S.B., a suspect came into focus: Joshua Schulte. Keefe chronicles Schulte's time at the C.I.A., during which he filed a restraining order against a colleague in a Virginia state court; he tracks the F.B.I.'s investigation into Schulte, which turned up an enormous trove of child pornography and photographic evidence of him committing sexual assault; and he interviews several former classmates who recall Schulte's sexually inappropriate behavior. (Presented with these allegations, several attorneys who have represented Schulte had no comment.)

The first criminal trial of Joshua Schulte commenced on February 4, 2020, at the federal courthouse in Manhattan. A decision had been made to postpone the child-pornography indictment and the sexual-assault charge; the government focussed on Vault 7, issuing ten charges, ranging from lying to the F.B.I. to illegal transmission of classified information. It had taken federal prosecutors three years to assemble the evidence that they would present in court, in part because of the official secrecy involved and in part because they intended to summon more than a dozen C.I.A. officers to testify, under oath, about Schulte's tenure at the O.S.B. "This was a delicate and highly unusual strategy. To speak in public about what happens on the job is to violate one of the signature prohibitions of an agency career. It was an indication of how seriously C.I.A. officials took Schulte's alleged offenses that they were prepared to forgo this traditional reticence for the purposes of a trial," Keefe writes. On March 9, 2020, the jury convicted Schulte of two lesser charges—contempt of court and lying to the F.B.I.—but hung on the eight more serious counts, including those accusing him of transmitting national-security secrets to WikiLeaks, and the judge declared a mistrial. A new trial is scheduled to begin on June 13th. Schulte, who opted to represent himself, "might well attempt to force the disclosure of so many secrets that the authorities will feel compelled to drop the charges against him or to offer an attractive plea deal. There may be some threshold of disclosure beyond which the C.I.A. will not venture," Keefe writes. Schulte's mother, Deanna, told Keefe that one reason her son had elected to serve as his own counsel is that he wants to "put it all out there." In a June 2nd court filing, Schulte suggested that if the government goes to trial with the child-pornography charges he plans to make it maximally painful for the C.I.A. Keefe writes, "In a contest between the dictates of official secrecy and the imperatives of justice, odds are that secrecy will win."