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Ex-NSA worker, Army veteran sentenced for selling classified info

(AP) — A former National Security Agency employee who sold classified information to an undercover FBI agent he believed to be a Russian official was sentenced Monday to nearly 22 years in prison, the penalty requested by government prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore said he could have put Jareh Sebastian Dalke, 32, behind bars for even longer, calling the 262-month sentence “mercy” for what he saw as a calculated action to take the job at the NSA in order to be able to sell national security secrets.

“This was blatant. It was brazen and, in my mind, it was deliberate. It was a betrayal, and it was as close to treasonous as you can get,” Moore said.

Dalke’s attorneys had asked for the Army veteran, who pleaded guilty to espionage charges last fall in a deal with prosecutors, to be sentenced to 14 years in prison, in part because the information he sold in 2022 did not end up in enemy hands and cause damage.

Assistant federal public defender David Kraut also argued for a lighter sentence because he said Dalke had suffered a traumatic brain injury, had attempted suicide four times, and had experienced trauma as a child, including witnessing domestic violence and substance abuse. Research has shown that kind of childhood trauma increases the risk of people later engaging in dangerous behavior, he said.

Later, Dalke, who said he was “remorseful and ashamed”, told Moore he had also suffered PTSD, bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

He denied being motivated by ideology or earning money by agreeing to sell the secrets. Dalke also suggested he had an idea that he was actually communicating with law enforcement but was attracted to the thrill of what he was doing.

Moore said he was skeptical of Dalke’s claims about his conditions since the defense did not provide any expert opinions or hospital records.

According to court documents, Dalke, who worked at the NSA for about a month, told the undercover FBI 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. He also allegedly said he had decided to work with Russia because his heritage “ties back to your country.”

Dalke was initially paid $16,499 in cryptocurrency 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. Prosecutors say $85,000 is about what he would have earned at the NSA in a year.

The agent directed him to go to Denver’s downtown train station on Sept. 28, 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 his 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 U.S. defense capabilities, some of which relates to that same foreign country.

Speaking outside court after the hearing, FBI Special Agent in Charge Mark Michalek said he could not provide details about what the documents contained, but he said Dalke knew the risk they posed.

“He knew that the disclosure of those documents was expected to cause exceptionally grave danger to the national security of the United States,” said Michalek, who was joined by U.S. Attorney for Colorado Cole Finegan.

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