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Former US NSA employee pleads guilty to taking classified documents

03 December 2017

According to anonymous sources from the investigation who spoke with New York Times reporters, Pho is the NSA employee at the heart of the recent Kaspersky saga.

The court documents don't reveal Pho's motive or anything he may have done or meant to do with the documents.

Pho is scheduled to be sentenced in April in USA district court in Baltimore.

Unidentified officials from the U.S. government, who could only speak about the classified details on the condition they remain anonymous, said that Pho took the classified documents home with him to help him rewrite his resume, the Times reported.

Although prosecutors working on Pho's case previously withheld many details related to his government work, in Friday's DOJ statement, prosecutors disclosed that he had worked for the NSA's "Tailored Access Operations" (TAO) unit, which focuses on infiltrating foreign computer networks, from 2006 to 2016.

The Trump administration ordered federal agencies in September to remove the Kaspersky software from its computers, and Congress has held several hearings on the company. USA officials have said that Kaspersky Lab, by virtue of being located in Moscow, is subject to Russian surveillance. It is further alleged by U.S. government sources that Russian spies were able to get their hands on the top-secret code via the antivirus package, although Kaspersky denies any direct involvement.

Nghia Hoang Pho, 67, of Ellicott City, Maryland, pleaded guilty to willful retention of national defense information, according to federal law enforcement officials. He was later indicted in February 2017 for violating the Espionage Act by carrying out what United States government officials have called the largest theft of classified information in U.S. history.

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In a November investigative report on the incident, Kaspersky Lab said its software had "inadvertently" retrieved the NSA tools because they were contained in a larger file that had NSA code in it that the firm classifies as malicious.

The court documents do not appear to make mention of Russian intelligence agencies or Kaspersky Lab.

Asked for comment, Pho's attorney, Robert Bonsib, said, "Any conversations regarding this case will be made in the courtroom during the sentencing".

Pho is at least the third person with NSA ties charged within the last two years in connection with mishandling classified information. Martin was indicted in February on charges of violating the Espionage Act.

Reality Leigh Winner, a Texas native who had been stationed in Maryland, was charged in June with sending a classified report to a news organization.

And in 2013, former contractor Edward Snowden pilfered secrets about NSA's surveillance programs and shared them with journalists.

Former US NSA employee pleads guilty to taking classified documents