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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

State Department IT Contractor Arrested on Espionage Charges

Lemma allegedly used an encrypted application to transmit classified national defense information to a foreign government official associated with a foreign country’s intelligence service.

A U.S. government contractor was arrested on Aug. 24 based on espionage charges in a complaint unsealed today. Abraham Teklu Lemma, 50, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Ethiopian descent, of Silver Spring, Maryland, is charged with delivering national defense information to aid a foreign government, conspiracy to deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government, and the willful retention of national defense information.

According to the criminal complaint, between on or about Dec. 19, 2022, and Aug. 7, 2023, Lemma copied classified information from intelligence reports and deleted the classification markings from them. Lemma then removed the information, which was classified as SECRET and TOP SECRET, from secure facilities at the Department of State. This material related to a specific country and/or geographic region. Lemma accessed, copied, removed, and retained this information without authorization.

According to the charging documents, Lemma used an encrypted application to transmit classified national defense information to a foreign government official associated with a foreign country’s intelligence service. In these communications, Lemma expressed an interest and willingness to assist the foreign government official by providing information. In one communication, the foreign official stated, “[i]t’s time to continue ur support.” Lemma responded, “Roger that!” In other chats, the foreign official tasked Lemma to focus on information related to particular subjects, and Lemma responded “[a]bsolutely, I have been focusing on that all this week . . . .” As alleged in the criminal complaint, the classified national defense information Lemma transferred to the foreign official included satellite imagery and other information regarding military activities in the foreign country and region.

“Following the arrest earlier this year of a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard for the unauthorized disclosure of classified national defense information, in mid-April 2023, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) undertook a self-initiated 60-day Internal Security Review of the Department of State’s Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) network, systems, and applications to identify opportunities to strengthen how we safeguard data in the TS/SCI environment,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “During this review, information was uncovered indicating that a Department of State information technology contractor may have removed, retained, and transmitted classified national defense information without authorization.”

According to Lemma’s LinkedIn page, he worked part time for the State Department since September 2021, and previously worked as a data analyst for an unnamed “US Gov Agency” and as an analyst for the Justice Department through contractor CGI. He also lists previous experience working for the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service. The page says he attended the University of Baltimore for information systems and technology from 2013-2016.

The two espionage charges carry a potential penalty of death or any term of years up to life in prison, and the willful retention charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. A federal judge will determine any sentence based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI’s Washington Field Office, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, and the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General are investigating the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tejpal Chawla and Alexandra Hughes for the District of Columbia and Trial Attorneys Heather Schmidt and Kathryn DeMarco of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.

“The Department of State commends the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and DOJ for the diligent work that led to an arrest and charges in this matter. The Department pledges its continued full support to the investigation,” Miller said. “In coordination with the Intelligence Community (IC), the Department will also review the national security and foreign policy implications of this matter.”

Read more at the Justice Department

Homeland Security Today
Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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