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NSA engineer gets five years in prison for stealing ‘massive trove’ of classified information

National Security Agency (NSA/Released)
September 27, 2018

On Tuesday, a Baltimore federal judge sentenced a National Security Agency engineer to five-and-a-half years in prison for taking highly classified information to his home, which is a chief security breach.

68-year-old Nghia Pho handled very delicate and classified information in very large quantities at the National Security Agency, some of which he took home across a five-year period between 2010 and 2015, amounting to a “massive trove,” Politico reported Tuesday.

Allegedly, some information was confiscated by the corrupt Shadow Brokers organization, who tried to auction off and expose various tools via the internet.

U.S. District Court Judge George Russell passed down Pho’s sentence after his attorney, Robert Bonsib, sought house arrest and probation. Prosecutors asked for eight years in prison for Pho.

The judge used the opportunity to make an example out of Pho, admitting that in the past, government officers who were guilty of similar crimes weren’t punished severely enough.

Russell used former CIA Director David Petraeus as an example after he also took highly classified information to his residence and shared the information and then was untruthful when questioned by detectives.

“Did he do one day in prison? Not one day. … What happened there? I don’t know. The powerful win over the powerless? … The people at the top can, like, do whatever they want to do and walk away,” Russell said.

Pho’s lawyer referred to another former CIA director, John Deutch, who committed the same crime and then was pardoned by an exiting President Bill Clinton.

Russell, while suggesting he may have been much tougher on Petraeus and Deutch, said, “They’re not in front of me.”

The judge said Pho’s crime was “extraordinarily serious” and he didn’t buy into Pho’s argument that it was an isolated error since it was a repetitive action that took place over years.

The programs that Pho jeopardized had to be terminated because of their vulnerability, said former NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers.

In court, Pho spoke openly and claimed that he took the highly sensitive materials home so he could score higher on his performance review. He said he was an immigrant from Vietnam with some social struggles, and that a higher score would give him the raise he needed to secure his retirement.

“My conscience punishes me about that,” Pho said. “I admit it but I do not betray the U.S.A. I do not betray this country. … I do not send anything to anybody or on the internet. I do not make profit on this information. … I cannot damage this country.”

The judge did allow Pho to return home until after the holidays so he can spend time with his family before he begins his prison sentence next year.