A government contractor with the State and Justice departments who had top security clearance was charged Thursday with aiding a foreign government spy.
Abraham Teklu Lemma, 50, a naturalized US citizen from Ethiopia, is accused of using his positions as an IT administrator for the State Department and a management analyst for the Justice Department to copy classified national defense information from intelligence reports and transmit the material to a foreign intelligence official, according to the DC US Attorneyâs Office.
Lemma, who lives in Maryland, has been charged with gathering or delivering national defense information to aid a foreign government; conspiracy to gather or deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government; and having unauthorized possession of national defense information and willfully retaining it.
He could face the death penalty if convicted on the two espionage charges.
âBetween on or about December 19, 2022, and August 7, 2023, Lemma copied and pasted information from at least 85 Intelligence Reports regarding many topics â the majority of which relate to the Relevant Country,â the FBIâs complaint against Lemma reads.Â
âLemma accessed these Intelligence Reports without a need to-know the classified information contained therein. During the same period, Lemma accessed at least an additional 48 Intelligence Reports without a need-to-know,” the complaint says.
“According to DOS records, Lemma has, on multiple occasions, also printed and downloaded SECRET and TOP SECRET classified information from the Intelligence Reports using the DOS system. The printed and downloaded material related primarily to the Relevant Country,â the complaint adds.
It is further alleged that the accused spy used an encrypted messaging app to transmit the sensitive material to a foreign official associated with Ethiopiaâs intelligence service, and that the two discussed the âmilitary activities of a rebel group involved in an armed struggle against the government of the Relevant Country.â
âIn these communications, Lemma expressed an interest and willingness to assist the foreign official in providing information,â the DC US Attorneyâs Office said.
âIn one communication, the foreign official stated, â[i]tâs time to continue ur support.â Lemma responded, âRoger that!â In another chat, the foreign official praised Lemmaâs efforts, stating â[a]lways this beautiful country have [sic] some special people who scarify [sic] their life to protect our proud history. You always remembered. It doesnât matter the results.ââ
Lemmaâs bank records indicate that after traveling to Ethiopia during the course of his illegal intelligence gathering efforts, he also deposited more than $55,000 in several batches to different banks.
The State Department revealed Thursday that Lemmaâs alleged unauthorized gathering and disclosure of national security secrets was discovered after a âself-initiated 60-day Internal Security Reviewâ implemented after Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixieraâs April arrest for allegedly leaking classified defense documents online.
âDuring 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,â the State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.
âMoving forward, the Department will continue to implement recommendations from the Internal Security Review to strengthen how we provide access to [Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented] information, enhance continuous security monitoring, and protect sensitive information to minimize the risk of similar incidents in the future,” said Miller.
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