Ex-NSA techie pleads guilty to selling state secrets to Russia

Wannabe spy undone by system logs, among other lapses in judgement

A former US National Security Agency techie has plead guilty to six counts of violating the Espionage Act after being caught handing classified information to FBI agents he thought were Russian spies. 

Jareh Sebastian Dalke will be facing up to life in prison when sentenced in April 2024, though in his plea agreement [PDF] the government agreed to seek a sentence no greater than 262 months (just shy of 22 years) "if the government determines [Dalke] has cooperated fully … and the information [he] has provided has been truthful, complete, accurate and of value." 

Dalke, 31, admitted that he transmitted excerpts from three classified documents, and sent four in their entirety, to an FBI online covert employee (OCE), all of which contained national defense information determined [PDF] to be classified top secret. 

A former US Army soldier, Dalke was employed at the NSA as an information security systems designer for less than a month, and resigned after the NSA denied his request for extended leave to take care of a sick family member. Dalke's initial communications with his "Russian contact" began weeks after he resigned. 

Dalke told the OCE posing as a Russian official that he had taken his NSA job because he had "questioned [the US's] role in damage to the world in the past and by a mixture of curiosity for secrets and a desire to cause change."

After his resignation from the NSA, Dalke reapplied and was hired for a new position he would have started at the end of September 2022, which he told the OCE would put him in a position to exfiltrate further secrets.

As for Dalke's motivation to sell state secrets to Russians, no need to speculate. He turned coat for the same reason plenty of others have done for generations: Debt

According to Dalke's signed plea deal, he told the OCE he was $237,000 in debt, with $93k soon to be due. Dalke requested $85k in an unnamed cryptocurrency for all the documents in his possession, and promised more in the future. The OCE paid Dalke approximately $16,499 in cryptocurrency for the excerpts, most of which was quickly moved from his crypto wallet to a personal bank account.

Along with assuming cryptocurrency is anonymous, Dalke made an elementary mistake in the commission of his crimes that led the FBI right to him. He didn't consider that the NSA might have comprehensive logs of user activities on their systems.

Dalke printed the documents he sent to the OCE while employed at the NSA. A look at historical data on NSA systems made it easy to determine that it was his account alone that printed those four particular documents, the FBI said in its affidavit.

Dalke also reportedly sent some of the cryptocurrency paid to him by the OCE to a wallet on the Kraken crypto exchange registered in his own name.

Some security engineer.

Dalke's case is hardly the only recent incident of cyber espionage affecting the US government. In August, a US Air Force National Guard member was accused of posting classified information online for clout, which later ended up on Russian-linked Telegram channels.

Days later a pair of US Navy sailors pleaded guilty to giving sensitive military information to Chinese spies, and last month a civilian US government employee working as an IT helpdesk tech was arrested for allegedly transmitting US national defense information to Ethiopia. ®

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