Joshua Schulte

The Schulte case dates from before the creation of Spying Today. Readers who would like the full background should consult the relevant Wikipedia page which is very thorough.

Essentially, Schulte is the latest in a long line of NSA/CIA whistleblowers. He was arrested on 24 August 2017, suspected of being the source of the “Vault 7” leaks. Vault 7 was an enormous body of classified material released in twenty-four parts by Wikileaks from March 2017 onwards. The material covered the period 2013-16 and demonstrated the ability of US intelligence agencies to hack almost any electronic consumer device. It also showed US agencies creating their own malware, using a secret base in Germany to mount cyber attacks and maintaining a catalogue of other nation’s malware possibly for use in “False Flag” cyber attacks (attacks where you blame a foreign government).

So far, so damning.

However, what sets Schulte apart from major league whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden is that investigators also found a vast amount of child pornography on his home computers. He is charged not just with being a traitor but a paedophile as well. If true, it is hard to imagine a more odious combination.

A Grand Jury has been convened and Schulte is facing a long list of charges. However, these charges involve so much top secret intelligence that preparation for trial is proving especially laborious. It has taken well over a year so far. This process has been complicated by allegations that Schulte has been caught using smuggled cell phones to publish yet more secret information disclosed as part of the pre-trial process.

Now Schulte’s lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, has been told that the CIA must be allowed to review all of Schulte’s outgoing communications before she receives them in order to ensure that he is not leaking further secret intelligence. He is already under extreme restrictions including being strip searched and chained to the floor in order to read classified evidential material. Ms Shroff must apply a full week before any occasion she is allowed to see him and is not allowed to take any kind of electronic equipment to the meetings at the detention centre in Manhattan where Schulte is currently held.

All of this security has slowed the pre-trial process down so much that the intended start date of 8 April has had to be postponed. The case is being held under a “special protective order”. In effect it is a secret trial. With this latest restriction, Shroff is now asking how it can be possible to give her client a fair trial when the government has so much control over the whole process? She cannot have confidential communication with her client and the government can know everything that they say. The government counters her objection by claiming that the intelligence official who reviews the communications does not communicate with the government’s lawyers. Given the sort of dirty tricks that the leaked material contains, this is a bit hard for some people to swallow.

Schulte continues to plead not guilty and the government is reportedly having a hard time. While it can show that Schulte had access to the intelligence, proving that he was the actual individual who leaked it has not been so simple. Even in the case of the child pornography, Schulte has been able to argue that it was on a public server and that it was not his.

The difficulty of holding a fair trial in any case involving top secret intelligence has never been so clearly demonstrated. Basically it is only possible if one completely trusts the government to play by the rules. But then these cases tend to concern breaches of faith by the government in the first place…

Sort that one out.

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