WASHINGTON – 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.
The charges were announced by United States Attorney Matthew M. Graves, Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen, of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, and Assistant Director in Charge David Sundberg of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
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!" In another chat, the foreign official praised Lemma’s efforts, stating “[a]lways this beautiful country have [sic] some special people who scarify [sic] their life to protect our proud history. You always remembered. It doesn’t matter the results.”
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 prosecuting the case.
A criminal complaint is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.