CIA John Kiriakou Original Surveillance

CIA Vault 7 Leaker Found Guilty. What Did He Actually Reveal?

CIA veteran John Kiriakou breaks down some of the most important elements of Vault 7—the biggest leak in CIA history—allegedly divulged to WikiLeaks by another former CIA officer.
FILE – In this courtroom sketch, Joshua Schulte, center, is seated at the defense table flanked by his attorneys during jury deliberations, Wednesday March 4, 2020, in New York. Schulte, the former CIA software engineer accused of causing the biggest theft of classified information in CIA history, has been convicted at a New York City retrial. A jury reached the guilty verdict against Joshua Schulte on Wednesday, July 13, 2022 in federal court in Manhattan. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

By John Kiriakou / Original to ScheerPost

A federal jury in New York last week convicted former CIA officer Joshua Schulte on nine felony counts under the Espionage Act for leaking information to Wikileaks that became known as Vault 7. Schulte has consistently denied that he was the source of the information. Two years ago, he was convicted on two of the original 11 charges, while the jury hung on the remaining nine. The most recent trial, in which Schulte represented himself, was on those nine counts, and he now faces up to 80 years in prison. Schulte is yet to be tried on state child pornography charges.

Prosecutors had literally no forensic evidence that Schulte had taken the data from the CIA and transferred it to WikiLeaks. But they contended that he was a computer genius so brilliant that he was able to cover his tracks. They alleged that he leaked the information because he was a disgruntled former CIA employee who hated his boss, couldn’t get along with his coworkers and sought revenge against the agency. That was enough for the jury.

CIA Deputy Director for Digital Innovation Sean Roche called the Vault 7 leak “a digital Pearl Harbor.” Chief prosecutor Damian Williams said the revelations were “one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history.” And Vice magazine said it was “the worst leak of CIA information ever.” The CIA leadership apparently thought the leak was so damaging that then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo ordered the agency to come up with a plan to kidnap or to kill Julian Assange in London. One former Trump Administration national security official said that Pompeo and other senior CIA leaders, “were completely detached from reality because they were so embarrassed about Vault 7. They were seeing blood.”

All of the major media outlets reported on the finalization of Schulte’s case. What they haven’t reported on, though, is exactly what Schulte was accused of leaking in the first place. What did we learn from Vault 7?

Vault 7 was a series of 24 collections of documents totaling hundreds of thousands of pages that included the most sophisticated computer hacking, surveillance and cyberwarfare tools that the CIA ever developed. Wikileaks published the first tranche, called “Year Zero,” on March 7, 2017. Just this first installment contained more information than all of that released by Edward Snowden and included vulnerabilities known to the CIA within web browsers, including Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox and Opera and the operating systems of most of the world’s cell phones, including Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

The fact that the CIA knew about these vulnerabilities and didn’t inform the companies was a violation of a longstanding policy the agency claims to have, stating it would assist US tech companies with their security if it learned of security weaknesses. Instead, it exploited those problems in its digital operations. We have no idea if the agency used these vulnerabilities to spy on Americans. Ashley Gorski, an American Civil Liberties Union staff attorney said at the time, “Our government should be working to help the companies patch vulnerabilities when they are discovered, not stockpile them.”

A second Vault 7 revelation came on March 23, 2017 and included accounts of CIA efforts to hack Apple’s iPhones and Mac computers.

Additional tranches were released every week or two until September 2017. Their revelations included proof that the CIA was able to hack into cars’ computer systems and could take over  control of the vehicle. Was the purpose of this to force the vehicle off the road? Off a cliff? Into a tree? The CIA never commented. Still other documents showed how CIA officers could take over an unsuspecting person’s smart TV and turn its speaker into a microphone to surreptitiously bug a room, even while the television appears to be turned off. Yet more documents showed that the CIA was running digital operations against the National Security Agency (NSA). It is unclear whether this was done as an exercise between the two agencies or if it was something more sinister.

Other revelations included a CIA-created program that was able to track documents transferred by would-be whistleblowers to media outlets (the program is called “Scribblers”), malware that can take over and control computers using the Microsoft Windows 10 operating system (called “Athena”) and malware that can be transferred from one “clean” computer to another through internal systems that are otherwise protected by anti-virus software (called “Pandemic”).  

The revelations were not limited to software. Also leaked was a program called “HammerDrill,” that injects a trojan horse onto CDs and DVDs and then documents information on the discs for later transmission to the CIA. An operation called “Dark Matter” revealed security vulnerabilities unique to Apple operating systems while a huge range of Cisco Systems router models also had their own compromised vulnerabilities known to the CIA, costing Apple and Cisco untold millions of dollars to redesign their products and correct the security flaws.

The American people have a right to know what the government is doing in their name, especially if what the government is doing is illegal. Unfortunately, we most often have to rely on whistleblowers to learn what we need to know.

Either way, I feel strongly about the treatment that Schulte has endured, being held in barbaric conditions over the past two years and kept in a literal cage in solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Brooklyn. Now convicted, he’ll likely be placed in a Special Administrative Unit or a Communications Management Unit in a maximum-security or supermax penitentiary. The government will seek to cut him off from the rest of the world for as long as possible. 

Read John Kiriakou’s piece on this topic here

In addition, the state of New York, simultaneously with the federal charges, charged Schulte with multiple counts of child pornography, which has given many of Schulte’s natural supporters pause. Prosecutors maintained that they only discovered the pornography when they seized the computer hard drives in Schulte’s apartment while looking for Vault 7 information. Schulte’s defense to the child pornography charges will be that the considers himself to be a libertarian anarchist and that he set up a server to allow people unfettered “free speech,” something akin to the 4chan and 8chan servers. He maintains that he has not “received” or “disseminated” any child pornography personally. However, when child pornographers saw that Schulte’s server supported “unfettered free speech,” they used it to trade illegal images and videos.  Schulte is adamant that none of the pornography was his. His protestations likely won’t matter.

John Kiriakou
John Kiriakou

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

33 comments

  1. No doubt that over the years the CIA has done some very, very bad stuff.

    And, no doubt, whistleblowers provide a very valuable service to our democracy.

    However, I was wondering if the author believed that the release of Vault 7 was, on balance, in America’s overall national security interests.

    I will concede that some, maybe much, released information was beneficial to Americans making informed decisions about their government and pushing for needed reforms, but what was in the other side of the balance.

    How harmful was it to put this information into the hands of the Chinese or Russians who, we know, are doing the same things that we are.

    I would have liked to her the author discuss this.

    On the issue of the conditions of Mr. Schultz’s incarceration, I had wished that the author had a link to the governments response.

    Having some familiarity with jails and prisons I will note a few things. Almost all prisoners are transported to court in leg and waist shackles. I am not familiar with the boxed hands.

    Most jail cells are about the size of a parking space and have no window with a view.

    Most jails keep their lights on all night.

    Hard to know what the author means by a cage which, as the word is commonly used would mean a compartment open of all four sides and the top. I doubt Mr. Schultz is being held in such a space.

    Many prisoners are held in solitary confinement and many jails have very poor sanitary conditions but author suggests Mr. Schultz is being singled out to be held in such conditions.

    Everyone would agree that any prisoner should be held in sanitary conditions with basic amenities like access to TV and reading materials and, certainly, the ability to communicate in confidence with his attorney.

    Without hearing the governments side of the issue it’s hard to evaluate this issue. As to his convictions, it’s hard to criticize the wisdom of 12 fellow citizens who heard all the evidence.

      1. Did they hear all the evidence? Good question always.

        We’ll have to see when it is appealed.

    1. Yeah.
      When did twelve citizens, listening to “evidence”, ever f*ck things up?
      What about the CIA crimes that remain unprosecuted, and unpunished?
      I’ve been in jail, and prison, and solitary confinement.
      You?
      Don’t think so.
      Can tell by what you wrote.
      You embarrass yourself when you claim knowledge you don’t possess.
      US “claimed” national security is not the paramount concern.
      Never is.
      International peace and cooperation is.
      CIA is in the way, to those ends.
      The more cruel the system is in its suppression, the more depraved will the masses revenge be.
      That is a frightening prospect.

      1. So, you’re one of those guys who know everything about the lives of others who post on this site.

        You first define them so you can claim that they don’t know what they are talking about.

        Well, Mr. Solitary Man, I confess to having never served time but as a criminal defense attorney for many years, I have been in every correctional facility in the State of New York.

        Yes, juries can get it wrong, (see O.J. Simpson) especially when they don’t hear all the evidence.

        But they do get it right the huge majority of the time. After all, among them they have 500 or 600 years of experience.

        Contrary to popular belief, the rule about conviction beyond a reasonable doubt did not arise as a protection for the defendant against unjust conviction.

        It was meant to insert a buffer for the jury so as not to weigh them down with the burden of having convicted an innocent man. So our system is designed to allow the guilty to go free so that the innocent are not convicted.

        Did the jury get it right with Mr. Schultz? Don’t know.

        Does the CIA get away with murder. Of course, they surround themselves with a bodyguard of lies.

      2. “amerikans cannot think except by means of slogans–they identify garbage as quality. the stupidity and ignorance of amerikans has long been a topic of hilarity in Europe. Paul Fussell
        this more true of lawyers…F Lee Baily famously remarked that if he was innocent he would prefer a military tribunal but if guilty an american jury

    2. “the government’s side of the issue”????….We already know the rubbish, lies and stupidity that comes from that side….On almost ANY issue!

      1. I am speaking of their court filings. Lawyers are subject to disbarment if they make false statements to a court and judges are usually very strict about this rule.

        As a result, court filings that consist of admissible evidence are usually pretty reliable.

        On the other hand, a plaintiff’s complaint not so much. Although rules of procedure require that allegations be made in good faith and lawyers certify that they have investigated the matter, there is a lot of puffery in a complaint.

    3. If the Russians and Chinese are doing the same thing the US is, what difference does it all make?….Besides, they are not our enemies except in MSM terms.

      1. So, you are comfortable with the possibility that Huawei might be installing jamming equipment on towers built near our military facilities.

        Do our friends do that?

        Do you think Putin is our ally?

        Was the massive electronic intervention in our presidential election OK with you?

        Did you forget that Mueller secured indictments against 26 Russian nationals and three Russian companies.

        Where they our friends?

        At some point you have to consider facts and just not scream MSM, MSM, MSM.

    4. You miss the most essential fact, your own government is your greatest national security concern. It is the world’s greatest national security concern. Those who rule in the west are ignorant, arrogant, incompetent, and completely unhinged.

      If China and Russia are our enemy, it is because we made them so. In fact we had to work hard to achieve it, but we are nothing if not persistent.

      1. I rarely see a post with which I agree 100%, but I guess sooner or later…I would see something that makes me feel a little less alone in the world.

      2. most recent transparency international ranking—USA #1 corrupt on earth….ADD is a fascist and racist apologist for imperialism. she believes an indictment from a corrupt Mueller is significant. in only 2 fascist nations are these witchunts allowed—grand juries: USA, Liberia….de facto in USA guilty unless proven innocent….USA incarcerates more pro rata than any nation in history.
        George Simmel found that not since medieval times were victims permitted to influence punishment . this medieval facism exists in 2 nations—USA due to mean bitter vengeful Femi-nazis and Australia. US judges elected will be replaced if lenient; a vengeful victim/family member can prevent an inmate release merely by writing to a parole department.
        Indeed anglo law is inherently unjust and informal. Procedures are not standard required nor are rules of evidence. See the Heideggerian/Marxist, Alexandr Kojeve: ‘Phenomenology of Right’ and his ‘Authority’. As you would expect, in Europe he is admired by left wing Hegelians, in USA, right wing Hegelians

    5. You assume that the Chinese and Russians did not already know these things. Making vulnerabilities public forces companies to fix them.

  2. Articles like this give rise to so much anger among the population creating a whole lot of mistrust of our government agencies that are supposed to serve the better good and protect us from nefarious “others”. Our population has been taught, through all levels of our education, to rebel as a united force against the obvious evil that runs our country. But this article reveals the fallacy of what we are led to believe. I, like millions of other citizens, keep our heads down, eyes and mouth shut out of fear. FEAR is how they keep us all in line. What gave rise to this tactic? Let’s take a close look at ALL religious doctrines. Behavior modification and indoctrination rules, made for the purpose of control and the resulting power that creates massive wealth for only a few.

    1. Fletcher Prouty’s book DEEP STATE, cover this issue.
      The CIA is way too powerful, for not being an organization that has no congressional body to oversee its actions.
      IF it has any success, it is because the US military, mostly the Army, has to bail it out of their ill-conceived plans.
      The CIA has overthrown numerous countries governments when they refuse to be puppets to the US. Those same countries seem to gravitate to communist government. Venezuela, Vietnam just two of their interferences/failures.

    2. DEEP STATE should SECRET TEAM
      sorry for miss thinking to many distractions

  3. Corruption ALL the way up the food chain means the solutions cannot be political.

    1. “Solutions cannot be political.”

      So, what are you saying?

      War is politics by other means?

      What’s the alternative?

      1. apparently you only read comic books—clausewitz long ago observed this; Hegel justified wars on moral grounds —Russian denazification of Ukraine, Soviet defeat of the nazis, but considered imperialist US invasions Korea, Iraq, Vietnam, etc immoral

      2. I thought you would recognize I was quoting Clausewitz so I didn’t think I would need to attribute this well known quote to him. Haven’t read a comic book in 60 years.

        But if you claim that there are no political resolutions then you must be arguing that war is the only answer.

        If not, I have misunderstood you.

  4. Thank you. Vault 8 will probably disclose the CIA program that plants illegal porn on your hard drive without your knowledge

  5. Headline: “CIA Vault 7 Leaker Found Guilty. What Did He Actually Reveal?”

    But should not the first question be: “Is Joshua Schulte the Vault 7 Leaker?”

    Yes, Joshua Schulte has been found guilty, but the headline presumes the outcome. Further into the column, Mr. Kiriakou raises significant questions about the jury’s decision, such as the absence of forensic evidence connecting Mr. Schulte with the leak.

    Overall, this was a very interesting read and I learned a lot about Vault 7. I hope that good journalists like Mr. Kiriakou will continue to follow the story. Thank you to Scheerpost for sharing it.

  6. that a US jury does the bidding of fascism b y rendering a guilty verdict recalls HL Menkhen: “the men amerikans most admire dare to tell them the most extravagant lies; the men they most despise try to tell them the truth”
    Daniel Boorstin: “amerikans have been liars and braggarts for 3 centuries…amerikans live in a thicket of illusions–they demand illusions about themselves”
    Geoffrey Gorer: “amerikan parents lie to their children, amerikan children lie to their parents–it is expected…americans bewilder Europeans”
    Kiese Laymon: “Obama’s job is to lie to a nation of liars”

    1. That’s a good Mencken quote but he and Boorstein did not spell Americans with a K as you do.

      What do you mean by that. Are you a U.S. citizen?

      1. I think the K is meant to remind us that these hideous Amerikans should remind us of the KKK.

  7. When someone the government doesn’t like gets charged with child porn, remember remember that Modified Elephant was a thing. It was an Indian government program to plant incriminating material on people’s phones, and then arrest them.

    1. Are you making a claim that the U.S. government planted child porn on Mr. Shultes ‘ device?

      Please show us some proof.

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