US government IT contractor facing potential death penalty over espionage charges
A US government worker, Abraham Teklu Lemma, originally from Ethiopia but now a US citizen has been charged by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) with three counts of espionage for sharing top-secret information with another country.
According to DoJ, Lemma collected or gave away top secret US national defense documents and “willfully retained” them.
These charges carry a potential death sentence, or any number of years up to life imprisonment if found guilty. He's also facing a charge related to keeping secret materials, which carries a maximum sentence of up to ten years in prison.
Lemma was working for the US government as an IT administrator, and DOJ management analyst, which gave him high-level security clearance.
According to prosecutors, “Lemma accessed, copied, removed, and retained this information without authorization.” Lemma made copies of classified documents and removed security markings that clearly indicated they were secret. The government believes he did this between December 2022 and August 2023.
While the court documents don't say exactly what the secret documents were about, they mention they were about a “specific country and/or geographic region.” A popular news outlet claims the unnamed country is Ethiopia.
Lemma made several trips to Ethiopia, and the government thinks he sent secret information to someone in that country's intelligence service.
According to court documents, Lemma used an encrypted app to send the stolen information. In one of the messages, he even indicated a willingness to divulge classified information to the intelligence service of the mystery country.
This isn't the first time something like this has happened. Just last year, another government worker, Jareh Sebastian Dalke, was charged with sharing secret information with a foreign government. It turned out the person he was talking to was actually an undercover FBI agent. Dalke was a National Security Agency (NSA) information systems security designer.