State and Justice Dept. contractor charged with spying for Ethiopia

A contract worker for the State and Justice departments has been charged with espionage, U.S. prosecutors introduced Thursday, accused of passing on categorized info since August 2022 to an official related to Ethiopia’s intelligence service.

Abraham Teklu Lemma, 50, of Silver Spring, Md., was charged in an Aug. 23 grievance unsealed Thursday on three counts: conspiracy; gathering or delivering nationwide protection info to help a overseas authorities; and unauthorized possession and willful retention of nationwide protection info, Justice Division and FBI officers mentioned. The primary two counts are punishable by as much as life in jail and the final depend by as much as 10 years.

An lawyer for Lemma couldn’t instantly be recognized.

In a press release asserting the fees, the U.S. lawyer’s workplace and FBI area workplace in Washington mentioned Lemma is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ethiopia who had a High Secret/Delicate Compartmented Info (TS/SCI) clearance and entry to categorized methods as an IT administrator for the State Division and as a administration analyst for the Justice Division. He was arrested on Aug. 24, however a scheduled bond listening to Thursday earlier than a federal decide in Washington was not held, and no info was instantly accessible on the courtroom’s public docket system.

A charging affidavit launched by the Justice Division alleges that since February 2022, Lemma copied categorized secret and top-secret info from greater than 100 intelligence stories and eliminated info from safe amenities with out authorization. In August and September of that yr, Lemma allegedly transmitted categorized nationwide protection info to the official related to Ethiopia’s intelligence service, together with satellite tv for pc imagery and data associated to Eritrean actions in Ethiopia’s Tigray area.

Charging papers didn’t title Ethiopia, however accused Lemma of spying for a rustic the place he was beforehand a citizen, had household ties and had lately visited. An FBI affidavit additionally described army actions in line with these of armed rebels battling allied Ethiopian and Eritrean authorities troopers on the time.

The State Division’s intelligence bureau found the leaks after an inside safety evaluation prompted by the disclosure of a whole lot of categorized paperwork earlier this yr. Jack Teixeira, a pc community technician with the Massachusetts Air Nationwide Guard, has been charged in that leak, which prompted inside safety opinions at different authorities businesses geared toward strengthening safety procedures and stopping future breaches, in keeping with officers acquainted with the matter.

“Throughout this evaluation, info was uncovered indicating {that a} Division of State info know-how contractor might have eliminated, retained, and transmitted categorized nationwide protection info with out authorization,” State Division spokesman Matthew Miller mentioned in a press release. Miller referred to as the evaluation “self-initiated” and mentioned it encompassed the division’s community containing TS/SCI info, with the objective of discovering “alternatives to strengthen how we safeguard information.”

Teixeira had entry to an analogous community for categorized info inside the Protection Division, in keeping with U.S. officers. Whereas he was not an analyst and had no specific must know the knowledge he’s accused of exposing, the character of his job, and his safety clearance, gave him entry to a bounty of secrets and techniques, together with about army operations in Ukraine.

In accordance with the FBI, Lemma communicated with the overseas official by encrypted chat, the place they mentioned insurgent army exercise and Lemma despatched images of a “army compound.” The official suggested Lemma in these chats that “[i]t is nice to establish the ahead deployed command facilities and logistic facilities.”

In one other communication, the overseas official said, “[i]t’s time to proceed ur assist,” and Lemma responded, “Roger that!” in keeping with the grievance. The overseas official allegedly praised Lemma’s efforts, stating “[a]lways this stunning nation have [sic] some particular individuals who scarify [sic] their life to guard our proud historical past. You all the time remembered. It doesn’t matter the outcomes.”

The FBI mentioned a licensed search of Lemma’s digital accounts on non-secure networks confirmed that he possessed categorized nationwide protection info together with digital photographic copies, notes and maps that he despatched to the overseas official.

On 4 days in August, Lemma was noticed at work reviewing categorized intelligence stories exterior of his licensed entry, utilizing the State Division’s categorized pc system, and accessing non-department categorized portals, both writing info on sheets of paper he folded and carried out of the division in his pockets or copying and pasting info into paperwork he burned right into a CD/DVD disc and was noticed taking house with him, in keeping with the FBI.

Most lately, on Aug. 18, State Division data point out Lemma accomplished roughly 10 downloads, most of which had been categorized on the top-secret or secret degree.

The FBI mentioned Lemma was additionally seen angrily discouraging a Maryland financial institution department worker from submitting a forex transaction report when he tried to deposit greater than $11,700 on July 15, shortly after he had copied with out authorization at the very least 16 intelligence stories. The transaction was a part of greater than $55,000 in deposits courting to the start of 2022 {that a} case agent deemed suspicious.

Lemma beforehand labored for one more authorities company recognized in courtroom papers solely as “U.S. Company 1” from November 2020 to December 2021, along with working throughout night hours as a State Division bureau of intelligence and analysis help-desk technician and IT administrator, and as a daytime contract administration analyst since Could 2022 for the Justice Division.


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