Former NSA employee pleaded guilty to taking classified documents home

Delia Watkins
December 5, 2017

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.

Pho entered a guilty plea Friday for unlawfully retaining national defense information, the US Department of Justice announced. The aggressive hacking of American targets by the Russian government, including the Democratic National Committee during last year's election campaign, is a high-priority concern for the United States, and forensic information from Mr. Pho's computer might provide useful clues.

A former National Security Agency hacker has admitted to illegally taking highly classified information from the agency's headquarters, which was later stolen by Russian hackers.

Pho worked for the National Security Agency's (NSA) Tailored Access Operations (TAO) since April 2006. In October, the Wall Street Journal reported that Russian government hackers had stolen NSA tools from a contractor who had taken them home and viewed them on his home computer, which ran Kaspersky antivirus.

Pho held some of the highest levels of security clearance at the agency, including sensitive compartmented information and "need to know" clearance, reserved for only a fraction of the agency's staff. The crime could land him in prison for up to ten years.

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"Beginning in 2010 and continuing through March 2015, Pho removed and retained USA government documents and writings that contained national defense information, including information classified as Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information", the US Department of Justice said in disclosing Friday's guilty plea.

Kaspersky declined to comment.

The guilty plea was announced by Stephen Schenning, acting us attorney for the District of Maryland; Dana Boente, acting assistant attorney general for national security; and Gordon Johnson, special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore Field Office. In Pho's case, Kaspersky detected the NSA code and sent it to Kaspersky's servers in Moscow for analysis.

According to the charges against Pho, he habitually took home both digital and paper files, including ones marked Top Secret, though he never received authorization to do so.

Some of the classified files were transferred onto Pho's personal computer at some point and likely compromised by Russian hackers, The New York Times reported Friday, citing government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. Harold T. Martin III, a Glen Burnie man and former NSA contractor, was indicted this year after being accused of stealing a "breathtaking" number of classified documents.

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