Montgomery County Man Working for the Government Charged with Espionage

Per the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Columbia: A government contractor is charged by criminal complaint, unsealed today, with espionage. Abraham Teklu Lemma, 50, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Ethiopian descent living in Silver Spring, Maryland, is charged with gathering or delivering national defense information to aid a foreign government; conspiracy to gather or deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government; and having unauthorized possession of national defense information and willfully retaining it.

Lemma worked as an IT administrator for the Department of State, and as a Management Analyst for the Department of Justice. In those positions, Lemma was granted a TOP SECRET security clearance and granted access to classified systems. According to the criminal complaint, between December 19, 2022, and August 7, 2023, Lemma copied classified information from Intelligence Reports and deleted the classification markings from them. Lemma then removed the information, which was classified as SECRET and TOP SECRET, from secure facilities at the Department of State against protocol. The materials related to a specific country and/or geographic region. Lemma accessed, copied, removed, and retained this information without authorization.

It is further alleged that Lemma used an encrypted application to transmit classified national defense information to a foreign official associated with the specific country’s intelligence service. In these communications, Lemma expressed an interest and willingness to assist the foreign official in providing information. In one communication, the foreign official stated  stated, “[i]t’s time to continue ur support.”  Lemma responded, “Roger that!”

The two espionage charges carry a potential sentence of death or any term of years up to life, and the retention charge carries a maximum sentence of ten years.  A federal judge will determine any sentence based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

This case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, and the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tejpal Chawla and Alexandra Hughes for the District of Columbia. Trial Attorneys Heather Schmidt and Kathryn DeMarco of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are also prosecuting the case.

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