A federal contractor is facing the death penalty after being accused of spying and sending U.S. government secrets to Ethiopia.
Abraham Teklu Lemma, of Silver Spring, Maryland, was charged with collecting or delivering national defense information to assist a foreign government, conspiracy to collect or deliver national defense information to assist a foreign government, and unauthorized possession of national defense information and willfully conservation said the Department of Justice.
The 50-year-old, originally from Ethiopia, was arrested last month and could face the death penalty if convicted of espionage.
Mr. Lemma worked as an IT administrator for the Department of State and as a management analyst for the Department of Justice.
In these positions, Mr. Lemma received a high-level security clearance and was granted access to classified documents.
Mr Lemma is said to have passed classified defense information such as satellite images, maps and notes to an intelligence official from an African country.
The documents contained information about military operations in the African country and were shared “in the belief that such information will be used to injure the United States and benefit a foreign nation,” officials said.
The unsealed court filings refer to the nation Mr. Lemma spied on only as the “Relevant Country,” but CNN reported that the country was Ethiopia.
“Between or about December 19, 2022, and August 7, 2023, Lemma copied and pasted information from at least 85 Intelligence Reports on multiple subjects — the majority of which related to the subject country,” the FBI complaint against Mr. Lemma.
He also allegedly had access to at least 48 additional intelligence reports.
Mr Lemma also allegedly printed classified documents or made copies and stored them on CDs and DVDs.
The 50-year-old was seen printing classified documents, folding them tightly and putting them in his pants pockets, as well as taking the documents to his car, according to the FBI complaint.
Obtaining the documents was accompanied by frequent trips to Ethiopia, where he downloaded more documents and copied and pasted dozens of classified references into Microsoft Word documents before erasing the US classification marks.
After traveling to Ethiopia, he deposited more than $55,000 into his U.S. bank accounts, the complaint said.
A federal affidavit also alleged that the accused spy used an encrypted messaging app to transmit the sensitive material to a foreign official associated with Ethiopia's intelligence agency.
“In these communications, Lema expressed an interest and willingness to assist the foreign official in providing information,” the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office said.
The affidavit appeared in a communication, the foreign official said:[i]it's time to continue our support', to which Mr Lema replied: ‘Roger this!' In another conversation, the foreign official praised Lemma's efforts, stating:[a]Always has this beautiful country [sic] some special crafting people [sic] their lives to protect our proud history. You always remembered. It doesn't matter the result.”
The State Department said Mr. Lema's alleged unauthorized collection and disclosure of national security secrets was discovered after a “60-day automated Homeland Security review” implemented after the arrest of Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixiera in April for allegedly leaking classified documents internet defense.
Mr Teixeira, 21, is accused of sharing classified military documents on the social media platform Discord.
It comes after former President Donald Trump was indicted for allegedly mishandling classified national security documents after he left office.
The FBI raided his resort home in August 2022 as part of a hunt for investigative documents and other government records that should never have left the White House when his presidency ended in January 2021.
A 49-page, 37-count indictment unsealed on June 9 revealed that Trump allegedly showed highly classified documents to unauthorized individuals on two separate occasions.
If convicted, Trump could face a maximum combined sentence of 100 years in prison.
The former president pleaded not guilty to all 37 charges.