Monday, 11 December, 2017

Former NSA worker pleads guilty to snatching classified docs

An aerial view of the National Security Agency headquarters in Ft. Meade Maryland An aerial view of the National Security Agency headquarters in Ft. Meade Maryland
Charlie Simmons | 03 December, 2017, 02:02

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".

The information is believed to have later been stolen from Pho's personal computer by Russian government hackers, according to the New York Times.

Nghia Hoang Pho, 67, pleaded guilty in a Baltimore federal court Friday to a single count of willfully retaining national defense information in violation of federal law, the Department of Justice announced afterwards.

Pho is the third person working for the NSA to be arrested for removing classified information since October of previous year - with contractor Reality Winner and NSA employee Harold Martin III preceding him.

Although Pho's offense carries a possible 10-year sentence, prosecutors in the case agreed not to seek more than eight years.

The Department of Homeland Security in September ordered federal agencies to start removing Kaspersky software from their computers. He's now scheduled to be sentenced on April 6, 2018. USA officials have said the firm either has ties to Russian intelligence or is forced to share information held on its servers with Russian officials.

In the meantime, Kaspersky Lab is denying media reports that it helped Russian spies steal any classified NSA data.

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An employee of Kaspersky Lab works on computers at the company's headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, July 1, 2017.

Pho worked at the agency's Tailored Access Operations unit from 2006 to 2016, according to the agreement.

Pho is the same former NSA employee implicated in previous reports involving the Russian government and Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based antivirus vendor accused of being a conduit for the Putin administration's global espionage efforts, both The Times and Reuters reported Friday.

The charges come on the heels of another government investigation in relation to a larger breach of NSA security, in which the NSA's hacking tools were released to the public past year by an unidentified group called the Shadow Brokers, Wired reported.

Edward Snowden, a former Central Intelligence Agency employee and NSA contractor, leaked a trove of classified documents to the media in 2013, but has avoided prosecution after receiving asylum for Russian Federation. Martin was indicted in February on charges of violating the Espionage Act.

Reality Winner, 25, a former Air Force linguist who worked as an NSA contractor at a facility in Augusta, Georgia, was charged in June with copying a classified US report and mailing it to a news organization.

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