A US government contractor working as an IT administrator at the State department is facing a maximum penalty of death or life in prison after being arrested on serious espionage charges.
Abraham Teklu Lemma, 50, of Silver Spring, Maryland, has been charged with delivering national defense information to aid a foreign government, conspiracy to deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government and willful retention of national defense information.
Between December 2022 and August 2023, the naturalized US citizen of Ethiopian descent is said to have copied secret and top secret intelligence reports, deleted the classification markings and retained the information without authorization.
He is then accused of sending the information to a foreign government intelligence officer via an encrypted messaging application.
The Department of Justice was tight lipped over which country Lemma had allegedly been conspiring to send defense secrets to, but reports suggest it was Ethiopia.
Among the information Lemma allegedly sent to his contact were satellite imagery, intel on rebel group activity and other information regarding US military activity in the foreign country and region in question.
The government also has a record of Lemma apparently communicating with the foreign operative, expressing an interest in supplying them with intelligence in specific areas.
Lemma allegedly made several trips to the country and has family there.
A State Department spokesperson revealed that Lemma’s alleged nefarious activity was only uncovered after the agency began a review of its classified networks following the Pentagon leak revelations, according to CBS News.
In addition to the two espionage charges, Lemma is facing up to 10 years behind bars for the willful retention charge.
In November last year a Maryland couple were sentenced to 40 years behind bars for attempting to sell designs for the US navy’s nuclear-powered warships to a foreign power.