An indebted former National Security Agency employee was charged with espionage on Wednesday after the authorities said that, in exchange for money, he tried to send classified national defense information to an undercover F.B.I. agent acting as a representative of a foreign government.
Jareh Sebastian Dalke, 30, of Colorado Springs, was charged with three counts of violating the Espionage Act. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison or the death penalty.
A lawyer representing Mr. Dalke did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
The U.S. attorney in Colorado said Mr. Dalke held a top-secret clearance and worked as an information systems security designer at the N.S.A. from June to July this year. According to court records, he abruptly left the agency because of a family illness that required him to be away for nine months and because the N.S.A. was unable to support his time off.
But at the end of July, he began communicating through an encrypted email with an “individual he believed to be associated with a foreign government.” Prosecutors said he was actually communicating with an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation agent.
Mr. Dalke said he “recently learned that my heritage ties back to your country, which is part of why I have come to you as opposed to others,” court records said.
Though the foreign government is not named, court documents said that Mr. Dalke, using Russia’s external intelligence agency’s website, believed he was communicating with someone from a “country with many interests that are adverse to the United States.”
Mr. Dalke, who had already left the N.S.A. but told the agent that he still worked there on a temporary assignment, then revealed that had taken “highly sensitive information” related to foreign targeting of U.S. systems and information on cyber operations, the prosecutors said. He offered the information in exchange for cryptocurrency and said he was in “financial need.” Court records show he had nearly $84,000 in debt between student loans and credit cards.
To show that he had the sensitive information, prosecutors allege, Mr. Dalke sent three classified documents to the agent — two excerpts were classified at the top secret level and one was secret. The agent then sent the cryptocurrency to an address Mr. Dalke provided, prosecutors said.
When Mr. Dalke reapplied to the N.S.A. in August, prosecutors said, he asked the F.B.I. agent for an additional $85,000 in return for more information he planned to share when he returned to the Washington area. He then agreed to send the information through a secure connection set up by the F.B.I. at a public location in Denver, which is where he was arrested, the authorities said.
Mr. Dalke is one of several Americans recently arrested and charged with trying to give secrets to a foreign government.
On Thursday, a Maryland doctor and her spouse, a U.S. Army doctor, were arrested and charged with plotting to give the Russian government medical records of members of the American military, believing that the information could be exploited by the Kremlin, federal prosecutors said.
And last year, another Maryland couple were arrested after, prosecutors said, they tried to sell submarine secrets to a foreign country.