Maryland contractor charged with espionage over national defense secrets

The Justice Department has charged a Maryland man, who worked as a government contractor, with espionage. File Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Sept. 21 (UPI) -- A Maryland man who worked as a government contractor has been charged with espionage, the Justice Department announced Thursday.

"Abraham Teklu Lemma, 50, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Ethiopian decent living in Silver Springs, Md., is charged with gathering or delivering national defense information to aid a foreign government; and having unauthorized possession of national defense information and willfully retaining it," the Justice Department said in a press release Thursday.

Lemma also has been charged with unlawful possession of classified documents.

"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."

The Justice Department says that Lemma collected classified information and intelligence reports between Dec. 19, 2022, and August 7, 2023, and sent them via an encrypted messaging app to a foreign official.

According to court documents, Lemma was told "[i]t's time to continue ur support," in a message from the foreign official and that Lemma responded, "roger that."

The Justice Department alleges that Lemma copied classified documents and removed their classification markers.

The espionage charges are technically punishable by life imprisonment or death.