A government contractor has been arrested on espionage charges for allegedly spying on the U.S. for a foreign government.
Abraham Teklu Lemma, 50, is a naturalized citizen of Ethiopian descent and worked as an IT help desk technician for the State Department. He was charged with aiding a foreign government by conspiring to deliver and delivering national defense information and the willful retention of national defense information.
Lemma allegedly copied classified information from intelligence reports and deleted the markings signaling it was classified before removing the information from secure facilities at the State Department. The criminal complaint says he allegedly took this information between Dec. 19, 2022, and Aug. 7.
While the complaint does not state what country he was spying on behalf of, sources told The New York Times he was spying for Ethiopia.
According to court documents, Lemma utilized an encrypted service to transmit the classified information to a foreign government official with whom he expressed an interest in aiding their country.
In one communication, the foreign official stated it’s “time to continue ur support,” with Lemma responding, “Roger that!” according to the complaint. When the official asked Lemma to look into specific issues, Lemma allegedly told him, “… I have been focusing on that all this week.”
Information conveyed to the official by Lemma included satellite images and other information regarding the U.S. military activities near the foreign country, according to court documents.
“First, in or around August 2022, Lemma transmitted satellite imagery from the region of the Relevant Country. This information was classified at the TOP SECRET level. Second, in or around September 2022, Lemma transmitted information related to a third-party country’s activities in the region of the Relevant County. This information was classified at the SECRET level,” the affidavit states.
The Justice Department noted that the two espionage charges carry a potential penalty of death or up to life in prison.
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