A U.S. State Department information technology contractor was arrested last month on espionage charges for selling secrets to Ethiopia, according to the Justice Department. Abraham Teklu Lemma, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Ethiopian descent, had access to secret U.S. intelligence reports and was charged with downloading documents and copying top-secret information from the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. The intelligence was then shared with an agent of an undisclosed nation, possibly Ethiopia, in exchange for money. The breach is considered serious and involved the sharing of satellite photos, intelligence reports, and other sensitive information. The details of the case, including the identity of the nation involved and the FBI agent in charge, are still undisclosed.
Mr. Lemma had previously worked as an IT help desk contractor for another federal agency before being assigned to the State Department’s INR bureau. He also had access to secrets within the Justice Department. The affidavit stated that he had a top-secret security clearance and obtained access to sensitive compartmented information. During the alleged activities, Mr. Lemma copied portions of secret documents, removed classification markings, and sent information to a foreign agent over an encrypted messaging application. The foreign official was identified from a visa application, but their name was not disclosed.
The case highlights the need for improved security measures in providing access to classified information and protecting sensitive data. The State Department has pledged to implement recommendations from the Internal Security Review to minimize the risk of similar incidents in the future. If convicted, Mr. Lemma faces severe penalties, including life imprisonment or even death.
Further details of the case and Mr. Lemma’s legal representation are currently undisclosed. His LinkedIn profile identifies him as a systems analyst for the State Department, with previous experience in the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.