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A former employee of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) received a five-year prison sentence for retaining classified national defense information.

On 25 September, the Department of Justice sentenced Nghia Hoang Pho, 68, of Ellicott City, Maryland to 66 months in prison and three years of supervised release for willfully retaining classified data affecting the national defense of the United States.

According to his plea agreement, Pho began working in the Tailored Access Operations (TAO) at the National Security Agency (NSA) in April 2006. TAO is responsible in part for collecting intelligence from foreign systems and combating unauthorized activity on systems belonging to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). As a developer at TAO, Pho held various security clearances including Top Secret and Top Secret // Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI). He also had access to classified data and signed numerous non-disclosure agreements after being told that disclosing this information could jeopardize the United States’ national security.

Even so, the plea agreement reveals that Pho willfully retained such classified data between 2010 and 2015 in both hard copy and digital form and stored it at his Maryland residence. Among the information he retained was national defense data classified as Top Secret and SCI.

“Removing and retaining such highly classified material displays a total disregard of Pho’s oath and promise to protect our nation’s national security,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur in a statement for the Justice Department. “As a result of his actions, Pho compromised some of our country’s most closely held types of intelligence, and forced NSA to abandon important initiatives to protect itself and its operational capabilities, at great economic and operational cost.”

Pho ultimately pleaded guilty to the willful retention of national defense information on 1 December 2017.

News of this sentence follows more than a year after federal grand jury indicted another former NSA contractor for stealing national defense information over a period of 20 years.

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