Federal IT Contractor Charged With Espionage, but Not for a Country You Would Expect

G0T0, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Espionage is a concern that’s as old as the United States itself, and in the computer age, the possibilities for spying against the U.S. are virtually endless. A federal IT contractor has been charged with sending classified information to his home country, and it’s not the nation you might expect.


The Daily Mail reports that Abraham Teklu Lemma, 50, a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Maryland, “worked as an IT administrator for the Department of State, and as a management analyst for the Department of Justice.” Federal authorities arrested him last month and charged him with passing classified information to his home country — Ethiopia.

The court kept Lemma’s arrest under seal until this week. According to court documents, “there is probable cause to believe that Lemma did, improperly and unlawfully, search for, access, secrete, remove, possess, obtain, and retain classified NDI [national defense information], and conspired to and did transmit classified NDI to a representative, officer, agent, employee, subject, or citizen of a foreign nation, intending or believing that such information would be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign nation.”

The affidavit states that Lemma “copied and pasted information from at least 85 Intelligence Reports regarding many topics — the majority of which relate to the Relevant Country” and accessed as many as four dozen classified reports over the past nine months, downloading information onto CDs and DVDs and printing some of it to send to Ethiopia.


Lemma allegedly downloaded and printed documents, stuffed them in his pants pockets, and carried them to his car, where he sat in the parking lot for extended periods of time. The Ethiopian spy has a LinkedIn page that’s pretty bare-boned, including only four connections and six followers. It does show that he has worked as a federal government IT contractor for at least four years, and his interests include Bill Gates and Melinda Gates. Go figure.

CNN reports that Lemma “also sent classified information to an agent from the intelligence service in Ethiopia, including satellite imagery and documents over an encrypted messaging app.”

“The agent allegedly told Lemma what information to look for, and the two discussed ‘military activities of a rebel group involved in an armed struggle against’ the Ethiopian government,” continues the CNN report.

Related: Here’s What Happened to the Couple Caught Trying to Sell U.S. Nuclear Secrets

Lemma also frequently traveled to Ethiopia and discussed meeting with his handlers, although it’s not clear whether they did meet in person. Authorities obtained some of the messages he sent to his handlers; in one of those messages, he demanded more money than the Ethiopian government was willing to pay him.


A State Department spokesman said that the agency discovered Lemma’s misdeeds as the result of a “self-initiated 60-day Internal Security Review of the Department of State’s Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) network, systems, and applications.” The review resulted from the arrest earlier this year of Jack Teixeira, a National Guard member who shared classified information online.

“During this review, information was uncovered indicating that a Department of State information technology contractor may have removed, retained, and transmitted classified national defense information without authorization,” the spokesman said.

According to the State Department, the U.S. maintains friendly relations with Ethiopia, so it’s not as if Lemma was sharing information with the enemy. However, he could face the death penalty for his crimes.


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