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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Maryland

Friday, December 1, 2017

Ellicott City Man Pleads Guilty to Willful Retention Of National Defense Information


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                              Contact ELIZABETH MORSE                                         at (410) 209-4855


Baltimore, Maryland – Nghia Hoang Pho, age 67, of Ellicott City, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to willful retention of national defense information.


The guilty plea was announced by Acting United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Stephen M. Schenning; Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Dana J. Boente; and Special Agent in Charge Gordon B. Johnson of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office.


According to his plea agreement, beginning in April 2006, Pho was employed as a Tailored Access Operations (“TAO”) developer for the National Security Agency (“NSA”). The NSA's TAO involved operations and intelligence collection to gather data from target or foreign automated information systems or networks and also involved actions taken to prevent, detect, and respond to unauthorized activity within Department of Defense information systems and computer networks, for the United States and its allies.


In connection with his employment, Pho held various security clearances and had access to national defense and classified information. Pho also worked on highly classified, specialized projects.  According to the plea agreement, beginning in 2010 and continuing through March 2015, Pho removed and retained United States government documents and writings that contained national defense information, including information classified as Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information. This material was in both hard copy and digital form, and was retained in Pho’s residence in Maryland.


“The facts supporting this criminal charge and guilty plea display a total disregard of the defendant’s oath and promise to protect our nation’s national security. Such conduct cannot, and will not, be tolerated,” noted Acting United States Attorney Schenning.


"The FBI investigation revealed a flagrant violation of national security law by removal of classified information to a vulnerable setting.  The U.S. government entrusts the most sensitive classified information to its security clearance holders, and in return, demands unyielding adherence to law, policy, and good sense to protect classified information by maintaining classified information in secured, approved government space.  The scope of harm is not theoretical -- it denotes another attack on the bedrock secrecy and discipline required of USG security clearance holding professionals.  The criminal acts described in the criminal information show a subject heedless of obligations to national security, a betrayal of the trust inherent in the security clearance he was granted, and provides clear notice that the FBI will vigorously investigate cases whenever a compromise of classified information arises,” said Special Agent in Charge Johnson.


Pho faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.  The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. If convicted of any offense, the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. United States District Judge George L. Russell has scheduled sentencing for April 6, 2018 at 10 a.m.


Acting United States Attorney Schenning and Acting Assistant Attorney General Boente commended the FBI and the NSA for their work in the investigation.  Mr. Schenning thanked his office’s national security prosecutors and attorneys from the Justice Department’s National Security Division, Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, all of whom are handling the prosecution.


Updated December 1, 2017