Former NSA employee admits to taking classified documents

Former NSA employee admits to taking classified documents

Among the details of the case shrouded in mystery is the date he was charged.

A former employee of an elite hacking group operated by the National Security Agency pleaded guilty on Friday to illegally taking classified documents, according to multiple media reports.

Beginning in 2010 and continuing through March 2015, Pho regularly removed and stored government documents that contained sensitive national defense information, including documents classified as Top Secret-the highest level of classified information that is defined by the government as information that "unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security". Pho now awaits sentencing for his crime, which can carry up to 10 years in prison, though prosecutors agreed not to seek more than eight years.

US District Judge George L. Russell scheduled sentencing for April 6. He kept the materials, including some in digital form, at his Maryland home, according to the DOJ statement.

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However, the charges against Pho state that he had installed anti-virus software on his computer made by Russian tech firm Kaspersky Lab.

The New York Times reports that Pho is the NSA employee that was targeted in a reported incident where Russian spies hacked NSA tools using Kaspersky Lab software.

Kaspersky Lab has in the past acknowledged they found NSA hacking software on a customer's computer and removed it, but said the software was subsequently destroyed. It is further alleged by USA government sources that Russian spies were able to get their hands on the top-secret code via the antivirus package, although Kaspersky denies any direct involvement.

Some of the tools in that breach have allegedly been used for "ransomware" attacks that shut down or disrupt businesses, hospitals, railways and other enterprises around the world in 2017, the Times reported.

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He worked on "highly classified, specialized projects and had access to government computer systems, programs, and information, including classified information", according to the agreement.

The two breaches are compounded by the August 2016 release online of a cache of sensitive NSA hacking tools that are similar to those Martin took. Harold T. Martin III, a Glen Burnie man and former NSA contractor, was indicted this year after being accused of stealing a "breathtaking" number of classified documents.

In June another NSA contractor, Reality Winner, 25, was charged with leaking classified material about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to a news outlet. He pleaded not guilty to espionage charges in February.

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