On Thursday, September 21st, federal contractor Abraham Teklu Lemma, from Maryland, was charged with espionage for allegedly sending classified United States information to Ethiopia, as revealed by recently unsealed court documents. Lemma, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ethiopia, faces three charges, including gathering or delivering defense information to aid a foreign government, unauthorized possession of national defense information, and willfully retaining it. His arrest, which occurred last month, was kept under seal until Thursday.
Lemma, 50, has been working at various U.S. government agencies since 2019, including positions as a help desk technician at the State Department and an analyst for the Justice Department. His government work granted him security clearance to highly classified information, which he allegedly copied and shared with a foreign agent. Between December 2022 and August 2023, Lemma reportedly copied information from at least 85 intelligence reports, mainly related to Ethiopia, and accessed 48 additional intelligence reports. He also allegedly copied intelligence reports onto CDs and DVDs, downloaded multiple items classified as top secret or secret, and deleted the classified markings on those documents.
The espionage activities involved sending classified information, including satellite imagery and documents, to an agent from the intelligence service in Ethiopia via an encrypted messaging app. The agent allegedly directed Lemma on what information to look for, discussing military activities of a rebel group involved in an armed struggle against the Ethiopian government. During a visit to Ethiopia earlier this year, Lemma and the agent agreed to meet at a hotel in the country’s capital, where Lemma allegedly accessed and made physical copies of classified U.S. material through the State Department.
Bank records obtained by investigators show that Lemma deposited money in several batches to different banks after downloading classified information and after his visits to Ethiopia. The espionage was discovered during a self-initiated 60-day Internal Security Review by the State Department following the arrest of another individual.
The case highlights a significant security breach and raises concerns over the safeguarding of classified information within government agencies. The Justice Department, alongside the State Department’s security service, is continuing to investigate the matter, delving into the extent of the security breach and the potential ramifications on national security.