CIA worker: Massive 2017 leak 'was crippling' to the agency

NEW YORK (AP) — A CIA computer engineer testified at the espionage trial of a former CIA employee on Wednesday that the 2017 leak of thousands of pages of documents “was crippling” to the agency and turned his office into an FBI crime scene.

The engineer — testifying under the pseudonym Jeremy Weber — said the release of the materials by WikiLeaks left the CIA scrambling.

“We were in damage mode,” he said at the trial of Joshua Adam Schulte, who quit the CIA and moved to New York for a $200,000-salaried job four months before the documents were published.

“The house was burning down and we were trying to figure out what was going on,” he said.

Weber said he was put in charge of engineers assessing the damage from a leak of materials that prosecutors say exposed CIA officers overseas and destroyed cyber tools used to track terrorists and collect intelligence abroad.

“It was crippling,” Weber said.

He said it took a week of 20-hour workdays to learn the scope of the damage, protect overseas assets and decide how to begin rewriting programs that target foreign adversaries.

During opening statements a day earlier, defense attorney Sabrina Shroff said there would be no proof at trial of any relationship between Schulte and WikiLeaks.

She said Schulte, 31, of Manhattan, was prosecuted because investigators could not find the source of the leak and spotted an “easy target,” someone who “antagonized almost every single person” while he worked at the CIA in Langley, Virginia.

“He really was a difficult employee, but being a difficult employee does not make you a criminal. A difficult employee does not translate to being a traitor. A difficult employee does not translate to somebody who would sell out their country. Josh Schulte's not a traitor,” she said.

Under questioning by a prosecutor, Weber said he considered Schulte a friend after both started at the CIA about a decade ago.

But he said he gave up the friendship in 2016 after Schulte told lies in formal complaints against a coworker.

Weber acknowledged that the coworker sometimes said things like “I wish you were dead” or “I want to dance on your grave," but he added that Schulte would sometimes laugh at those comments in an environment where workers sometimes shot Nerf guns at one another.

Weber said he believed Schulte lied when he claimed the coworker angrily told him once: “I wish you were dead and that's not a threat, it's a ... promise.”

“I felt like Josh ... crossed a line and I was done with him,” he said.

Later, Weber said he took it as a threat when Schulte demanded his access restored to a CIA program and said he'd get it restored “one way or another.”

He said he later complained to his bosses that Schulte had breached security protocols by using his status as an administrator of software programs to gain greater access to a top-secret program without approval from superiors.