WASHINGTON (WJZ) — A former National Security Agency employee who pleaded guilty to keeping top secret U.S. defense material at his home was sentenced on Tuesday.
67-year-old Nghia Hoang Pho, of Ellicott City, was sentenced to five years and six months behind bars after pleading guilty to willful retention of national defense information.
The judge was torn Tuesday between making an example out of Pho and following the lenient sentences handed down to former leaders including General David Petraus, who only received probation for a similar crime.
The charges carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, but prosecutors recommended he serve eight years, according to his attorney, Robert Bonsib.
“This case was remarkable in terms of the sensitivity of the information that was taken, and the sheer length of time the defendant was taking information,” said U.S. Attorney, District of Maryland, Robert Hur.
Between 2010 and March 2015, Pho, who was born in Vietnam and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, living in Ellicott City, reportedly took home paper and digital copies of U.S. government documents and writings that had national defense information on them.
Pho’s home computer was using antivirus software made by Kaspersky Lab, a top Russian software company, and Russian hackers are thought to have exploited the software to steal the documents.
NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers wrote in a letter to the judge that Pho put at risk highly sophisticated intelligence methods, and cost the NSA tremendous time and money to clean up his mess.
Pho’s attorney said he is a good family man, who made a long-term series of bad judgments.
“The judge struggled, I think, to do what was fair to Mr. Pho, and also respect the seriousness of the violation. We appreciate the fact that he imposed a sentence substantially below what the government wanted,” said Robert Bonsib, Pho’s defense attorney.
There is no evidence Pho ever sold or disseminated the information.
He said in court, he was working at home to get a promotion.
But federal law and Pho both acknowledge that it was not worth the massive risk to national security.
Pho will begin his sentence in January, prosecutors said there is no evidence his behavior would have stopped if the law hadn’t intervened.