Abraham Teklu Lemma, a 50-year-old government contractor, has been arrested on espionage charges for allegedly spying on the United States on behalf of a foreign government. Lemma, a naturalized citizen of Ethiopian descent, worked as an IT help desk technician for the State Department. He has been charged with aiding a foreign government by conspiring to deliver and delivering national defense information, as well as the willful retention of national defense information.
According to the complaint, Lemma allegedly copied classified information from intelligence reports and removed the markings indicating its classified status before taking it from secure facilities at the State Department. The alleged espionage took place between December 19, 2022, and August 7. While the complaint does not specify the country Lemma was spying for, sources have indicated that it was Ethiopia.
Court documents reveal that Lemma used an encrypted service to transmit the classified information to a foreign government official, with whom he expressed an interest in aiding their country. The complaint cites communications where the foreign official stated, “it’s time to continue ur support,” to which Lemma responded, “Roger that!” Lemma allegedly provided the official with satellite images and other information regarding U.S. military activities near the foreign country.
The affidavit states that Lemma transmitted satellite imagery from the relevant country in August 2022, which was classified at the TOP SECRET level. In September 2022, he allegedly transmitted information related to a third-party country’s activities in the same region, classified at the SECRET level. The Justice Department has highlighted that the two espionage charges carry a potential penalty of death or up to life in prison.