NSA employee pleads guilty to removing classified information

NSA employee pleads guilty to removing classified information

Former National Security Agency employee Nghia H. Pho, 67, of Maryland, pleaded guilty in US District Court for the District of Maryland to one count of willful retention of national defense information, according to charges unsealed on Friday through a US Department of Justice statement.

The charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, but prosecutors are recommending he serve eight years, according to his attorney, Robert Bonsib.

"In connection with his employment, Pho held various security clearances and had access to national defense and classified information".

Pho is scheduled to be sentenced in April in USA district court in Baltimore. According to a court document, from 2010 to March 2015, Pho removed classified material in hard copy and digital form.

A United States intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Pho was the same NSA employee who had been identified in media reports for using Kaspersky Lab antivirus software on his home computer. U.S. officials then banned the use of Kaspersky products on USA government computers. USA officials have said the firm either has ties to Russian intelligence or is forced to share information held on its servers with Russian officials.

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Pho began work with the NSA in 2006, when he joined the agency's Tailored Access Operations (TAO) group as a developer. But the nature of the threat was not fully realized until it was discovered Pho had installed a popular antivirus software by Kaspersky Lab, a software company based in Russian Federation, which is believed to have been exploited to steal the files from Pho's computer. After an internal investigation in November, Kaspersky admitted that its antivirus software could be compromised, but added that it had was not deliberate and denied it was involved with Russian intelligence.

Pho is the same former NSA employee implicated in previous reports involving the Russian government and Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based antivirus vendor accused of being a conduit for the Putin administration's global espionage efforts, both The Times and Reuters reported Friday.

Pho is at least the third person with NSA ties charged within the last two years in connection with mishandling classified information. Harold Martin, an NSA contractor, was indicted in February for stealing up to 50 terabytes of data during a 20 year period, The Times said.

And in 2013, former contractor Edward Snowden pilfered secrets about NSA's surveillance programs and shared them with journalists. Meade, Maryland; NSA contractor Reality Winner was charged in June with leaking classified material to an online news outlet.

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