Threat Management, Threat Management, Data Security

Former NSA employee charged for trying to sell national, cyber secrets

The NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. (Fort Meade)
The Department of Justice charged a former NSA employee with attempting to sell government secrets. (Fort Meade)

The Department of Justice has arrested a former National Security Agency employee, charging him with attempting to sell classified government secrets, including sensitive information related to U.S. national security and cybersecurity, to an undercover FBI operative he believed was working for a foreign government.

According to a criminal complaint filed in the District Court of Colorado, Jareh Sebastian Dalke is accused of printing out and storing classified information while working for the NSA. He spent three years in the Army and held a top secret clearance. His tenure at the intelligence agency began in June 2022 but lasted less than a month before he resigned, citing a family members illness. However, starting in August, he began conversing with an undercover FBI operative posing as an agent of a foreign government.

In initial conversations with an undercover FBI employee through an encrypted foreign email service, Dalke expressed a shared heritage with the operative’s unnamed foreign country and expressed a desire to pass along classified information in exchange for money, describing it as “an opportunity to help balance the scales of the world while also tending to my own needs.”

To prove he possessed secret information, he sent over excerpts of three classified documents from three U.S. agencies. One consisted of a cover page and table of contents of a U.S. threat assessment focused on the foreign government’s offensive military capabilities. Another related to a separate agency’s plans to update a cryptographic program, the third dealt with the U.S. government’s defensive military capabilities and related in part to the foreign government.

Dalke told the FBI operative that the documents he sent over were just a “small sample of what is possible” and promised to send additional information in exchange for $85,000. In addition to money, Dalke also cited ideological reasons for passing along the information. 

"Dalke also stated that he was an employee of the U.S. government and that he put in for the position was currently in because he had ‘questioned our role in damage to the world in the past and by mixture of curiosity for secrets and a desire to cause change,’" the complaint reads.

The complaint does not openly state the name of the foreign government in question, but at one point Dalke asked the FBI operative to prove he was an agent of the country, saying he had reached out through multiple channels, including the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Tor website, in an attempt to verify.

Dalke said at least some of the information he obtained was due to a misconfiguration in NSA systems that allowed him to gain higher access privileges than he was warranted. Investigators appear to have caught Dalke in part because internal NSA records show he was the only one who printed out the stolen documents, with each one printed out over three separate days in the span of a week. Money was exchanged through cryptocurrency, and he opened an account in his own name the same day they made the deal.

Prosecutors say that Dalke filed for bankruptcy in 2017, and had more than $80,000 in student loans and other debts. He later told the FBI operative that his debts had swelled to more than $237,000, more than $93,000 of which was due “very soon.”

The FBI sent tens of thousands of dollars to Dalke’s cryptocurrency account over the next month, which he withdrew and later deposited into a bank account under his name. Law enforcement officials attempted to set up an in-person meeting, and prosecutors said after expressing reservations about traveling to Washington, Dalke recommended a meeting spot in Denver and requested access to a mechanism to digitally transmit additional sensitive information. He was arrested soon after.

Dalke was an information security systems designer and appears to have a deep background in cybersecurity, obtaining an undergraduate degree in cybersecurity and information assurance from Western Governor’s University and a master’s degree in cyber policy and technical vulnerability analysis from Norwich University. He was also pursuing a doctorate focused on cyber affairs and advanced persistent threats from American Military University, claimed to a hold a number of cybersecurity certifications and moonlighted as a digital crimes investigator for a volunteer law enforcement group called the Colorado Rangers.

Derek B. Johnson

Derek is a senior editor and reporter at SC Media, where he has spent the past three years providing award-winning coverage of cybersecurity news across the public and private sectors. Prior to that, he was a senior reporter covering cybersecurity policy at Federal Computer Week. Derek has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from Hofstra University in New York and a master’s degree in public policy from George Mason University in Virginia.

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