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Federal contractor from Maryland charged with sending classified US information to Ethiopia

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(CNN) — A federal contractor who worked for State and Justice departments has been charged with sending classified US information to Ethiopia, according to newly unsealed court documents.

Abraham Teklu Lemma, 50, from Maryland, faces three charges, including gathering or delivering defense information to aid a foreign government and unauthorized possession of national defense information and willfully retaining it. His arrest last month was kept under seal until Thursday.

The court documents did not specify where in Maryland Lemma was from. 

Lemma is a naturalized US citizen from Ethiopia, according to court documents. He has worked at various US government agencies since 2019 - including as a help desk technician at the State Department and as an analyst for the Justice Department.

The Justice Department's inspector general and the State Department's security service are investigating the matter.

A lawyer for Lemma is not yet publicly listed.

His government work, prosecutors say, gave him a security clearance access to highly classified information, which he illegally copied and shared with a foreign agent.

Since last summer, Lemma repeatedly used that access to search for classified intelligence reports related to an unnamed African country where Lemma previously had citizenship. Though court documents only refer to the country as the "Relevant Country," CNN has confirmed the country is Ethiopia.

Between December 2022 and August 2023, Lemma "copied and pasted information from at least 85 Intelligence Reports regarding many topics-the majority of which relate to the Relevant Country," court documents allege. He also allegedly accessed at least 48 additional intelligence reports and printed and downloaded highly classified information from those reports.

On at least three occasions, court documents say, Lemma copied intelligence reports onto CDs and DVDs, downloaded multiple items classified as top secret or secret and deleted the classified markings on those documents.

He also sent classified information to an agent from the intelligence service in Ethiopia, including satellite imagery and documents over an encrypted messaging app, court documents say.

The agent allegedly told Lemma what information to look for, and the two discussed "military activities of a rebel group involved in an armed struggle against" the Ethiopian government.

Messages cited by investigators in court documents suggest that, during a visit to Ethiopia earlier this year, Lemma and the agent agreed to meet at a hotel in the country's capital. Several times during his trip to the country, Lemma allegedly accessed and made physical copies of classified US material through the State Department.

Bank records obtained by investigators show that Lemma, after downloading classified information and after his visits to the country, deposited money in several batches to different banks.

State Dept. initiates internal security review

The State Department made the discovery that a contractor was sending classified information to Ethiopia as part of a "self-initiated 60-day Internal Security Review of the Department of State's Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) network, systems, and applications," State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Thursday.

The Bureau of Intelligence and Research review was initiated following the arrest of Jack Teixeira, Miller said.

"During this review, information was uncovered indicating that a Department of State information technology contractor may have removed, retained and transmitted classified national defense information without authorization," Miller said.

By Hannah Rabinowitz and Holmes Lybrand, CNN  

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