NSA employee pleads guilty after stolen classified data landed in Russian hands

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Although the documents don't make it clear exactly what specific classified data and records were taken - beyond hard copy and digital files stored in Pho's residence - several earlier reports have pointed to hacking tools developed for offensive operations launched by the NSA, such as targeting foreign networks and systems for conducting surveillance.

What the documents don't say is that Pho is the government hacker whose computer, according to the New York Times, provided secret NSA code to a controversial Russian cybersecurity firm, Kapsersky Lab, some of whose employees also have worked for Russian intelligence.

Nghia Hoang Pho, 67, removed the documents over a period of five years ending in 2015, according to a plea agreement made public by the Justice Department. The aggressive hacking of American targets by the Russian government, including the Democratic National Committee during last year's election campaign, is a high-priority concern for the United States, and forensic information from Mr. Pho's computer might provide useful clues.

An Ellicott City man and former employee of the National Security Agency pleaded guilty Friday in federal court in Baltimore to removing classified documents and bringing them home - the latest in a series of similar breaches at the spy agency to be publicly revealed.

Pho, who was born in Vietnam and is a naturalized US citizen, is free pending his sentencing, which is set for April 6, Bonsib said.

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The guilty plea said that between 2010 and March 2015, Pho removed and retained at his home paper and digital copies of US government documents and writings containing national defense information. In October, the Wall Street Journal reported that Russian government hackers had stolen NSA tools from a contractor who had taken them home and viewed them on his home computer, which ran Kaspersky antivirus.

Pho is at least the third NSA worker accused of have illegally taken home classified information in recent years.

The NSA has not commented on the report, but the Department of Homeland Security subsequently issued a directive banning all US agencies from using Kaspersky products. He's now scheduled to be sentenced on April 6, 2018. He faces a maximum sentence of ten years in prison, along with a fine of $250,000.

The guilty plea was announced by Stephen Schenning, acting us attorney for the District of Maryland; Dana Boente, acting assistant attorney general for national security; and Gordon Johnson, special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore Field Office. The former NSA staffer worked in "highly classified, specialised projects". Victor is a former NSA contractor and Air Force veteran.

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