Justice Department arrests, charges IT contractor with espionage

The Justice Department has charged an IT contractor with espionage charges.

September 21, 2023, 10:53 PM

The Justice Department has arrested and charged an IT contractor with two counts of espionage for allegedly taking secret and top-secret information from the State Department and sending it to a foreign country.

Abraham Teklu Lemma, a foreign national with U.S. citizenship, was working as an evening help desk technician assigned to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research with the U.S. Department of State when he is alleged to have copied large amounts of classified information, including documents, photographs, notes, maps and satellite imagery, and transmitted it to a foreign country using an encrypted messaging application.

"Between on or about December 19, 2022, and August 7, 2023, Lemma copied and pasted information from at least 85 Intelligence Reports regarding many topics—the majority of which relate to the Relevant Country. Lemma 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," according to the criminal complaint.

PHOTO: In this June 8, 2023, file photo, a sign for the Department of Justice is photographed in Washington, D.C.
In this June 8, 2023, file photo, a sign for the Department of Justice is photographed in Washington, D.C.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP, FILE

He then allegedly transmitted the information to an unnamed individual of an unnamed country through a secure messaging app on "multiple occasions."

According to the complaint, "In one communication, Lemma sent an image relating to events in the Relevant Country and advised the Foreign Official, “[y]our team analyze this and establish some sort of sense to this,” according to the criminal complaint. In another exchange, the Foreign Official told Lemma, "[w]e making [sic] significant progress on averting the … in few days we will achieve the critical milestones ….not to happen again. Therefore, it’s not a long time we are asking. Good if you can check and [sic] back to me what u can do."

Similarly, the foreign official advised Lemma, "[i]t is great to identify the forward deployed command centers and logistic centers," in response to Lema discussing locations in the Relevant Country," court documents say.

He has held a top-secret clearance since at least 2020 and obtained a SCI in July of 2021.

The complaint states that on multiple occasions, Lemma traveled to an unnamed country where he has ties to and before, during and after his travels, and "has downloaded over 100 documents containing classified information from the DOS classified system to CDs and/or DVDs."

Since June, he was allegedly copying and pasting the classified information into a Microsoft Word document.

"DOS records further show Lemma then downloaded those Word files from the DOS classified system onto CDs and/or DVDs, which could then be taken out of the SCIF," the court documents say. "The material from Intelligence Reports that Lemma was reviewing and copying what was classified at the TOP SECRET and SECRET levels, and also related primarily to the Relevant Country," the documents read.

Between July and August of this year, he allegedly copied information from intelligence reports at least 10 times.

On multiple occasions last month, he was allegedly observed taking notes on a piece of paper of classified information at his desk in the SCIF.

The Justice Department says other chat logs it uncovered show Lemma was asked about specific intelligence information, and his account information was allegedly accessed in the representative's country when Lemma was no longer there.

The Justice Department alleges Lemma was paid over $100,000 in exchange for the information.

ABC News was not immediately able to locate a legal representative for Lemma.

In addition to his work at the State Department, he is currently employed during the day as a contract management analyst at the Justice Department, according to court records.