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Ex-NSA employee pleads guilty to trying to sell classified information to Russia

A former National Security Agency (NSA) employee from Colorado pleaded guilty on Monday to trying to sell classified national security information to Russia.

Federal prosecutors agreed to not ask for more than about 22 years in prison for Jareh Sebastian Dalke when he is sentenced in April if he adheres to the terms of a plea deal, but the judge will ultimately decide his punishment.

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Dalke, a 31-year-old army veteran from Colorado Springs, technically faces up to a possible life sentence for giving the information to an undercover FBI agent who prosecutors say Dalke believed was a Russian agent. However, accepting responsibility for a crime usually leads to a lighter sentence.

Dalke told the agent that he wanted to “cause change” after questioning the United States’ role in causing damage to the world, but he also said he was $237,000 in debt, according to court documents. He also allegedly said he had decided to work with Russia because his heritage “ties back to your country”.

Dalke pleaded guilty during a hearing before the US district judge Raymond Moore. He only spoke in answer to questions from Moore about whether he understood the terms of the deal. He acknowledged that he has been taking medications for mental illness while being held in custody for about a year.

Dalke was paid $16,499 in cryptocurrency last year for excerpts of some documents that he passed on to the agent to show what he had, and then he offered to sell the rest of the information he had for $85,000, according to the plea deal.

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The agent directed him to go to Denver’s downtown train station on 28 September 2022, and send the documents using a secure digital connection during a four-hour window. Dalke arrived with his laptop and first used the connection to send a thank-you letter that opened and closed in Russian and in which he said he looked “forward to our friendship and shared benefit”, according to the plea deal. Moments after he used his laptop to transfer all the files, FBI agents arrested him.

According to the indictment, the information Dalke sought to give to Russia included a threat assessment of the military offensive capabilities of a third, unnamed country. It also includes a description of sensitive US defense capabilities, some of which relates to that same foreign country.

The plea deal requires, among other things, that Dalke agree to talk to authorities about his crimes and provide truthful, accurate and valuable information about what happened.

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Dalke worked as an information systems security designer for the NSA, the US intelligence agency that collects and analyzes signals from foreign and domestic sources for the purpose of intelligence and counterintelligence. After he left and gave the classified information to the undercover agent, prosecutors say he reapplied to work at the NSA.

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During a hearing last year, one of Dalke’s federal public defenders downplayed Dalke’s access to classified information since he only worked at the NSA for less than a month.