State Dept IT contractor charged with espionage, allegedly sent classified information to Ethiopia

In Washington, The Justice Department stated Thursday that an IT contractor for the State Department had been charged with espionage after it was alleged that he granted connections in other governments access to his U.S. government account and communicated sensitive government data from those systems to those contacts.

According to authorities, Abraham Teklu Lemma is a naturalized citizen of the United States of Ethiopian descent with a top-secret security clearance. Since at least last summer, according to two sources familiar with the investigation, he has allegedly worked for Ethiopia and had access to sensitive U.S. government records.

Lemma is charged with illegally accessing several intelligence files, the majority of which were focused on a single nation, and using his credentials to print or download top-secret and secret records from those reports onto discs.

Investigators said Lemma visited the nation multiple times during this time and had family there.

Although the nation is not specifically mentioned in court documents, sources have established that it is Ethiopia.

The New York Times was the first to report on the accusations against Lemma and his activities on behalf of Ethiopia.

Prosecutors claimed in court documents that Lemma sent sensitive information about rebel group activity, maps, photos, and satellite data to a foreign contact last year using an encrypted messaging app.

Lemma reportedly wrote to his contact with the words “[y]our team analyze this and establish some sort of sense to this,” along with an image of the nation, according to the criminal documents.

According to court records, the official wrote to Lemma in September 2022 and said, “It’s time to continue ur support.” He supposedly replied, “Roger that!”

Additionally, according to court filings, Lemma’s electronic accounts were accessed 31 times between April 12 and June 21 from Ethiopia, including times when Lemma was out of the country, indicating he may have given someone in another nation access to his accounts.

According to charging filings, Lemma is a U.S. government contractor who has had prior positions with multiple federal entities since at least 2019. In 2021, he began working in information technology for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the State Department, where he kept a security clearance. In addition, according to court documents, he is currently employed by the Justice Department as a “contract management analyst” and has access to sensitive data.

Additionally, according to court filings, Lemma’s electronic accounts were accessed 31 times between April 12 and June 21 from Ethiopia, including times when Lemma was out of the country, indicating he may have given someone in another nation access to his accounts.

According to charging filings, Lemma is a U.S. government contractor who has had prior positions with multiple federal entities since at least 2019. In 2021, he began working in information technology for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the State Department, where he kept a security clearance. In addition, according to court documents, he is currently employed by the Justice Department as a “contract management analyst” and has access to sensitive data.

Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the State Department, commended the FBI and Justice Department “for the diligent work that led to an arrest and charges in this matter.” The State Department, he continued, would “review the national security and foreign policy implications” and “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.”

He is charged on three federal counts, including deliberately holding onto and having illegal access to material related to national defense for the purpose of aiding a foreign government.

The two espionage counts against Lemma carry a maximum sentence of death or life in jail, and the detention charge carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.

Jonathan Toebbe, a former Navy engineer, and his wife Diana, who also admitted to scheming to sell secrets on nuclear-powered submarines to a foreign country, received a sentence of roughly 20 years in jail last year. In an effort to leak the top-secret information to the public, investigators said Jonathan Toebbe went so far as to conceal a memory card inside of a peanut butter sandwich.

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