back to article DoJ: Ex-soldier tried to pass secrets to China after seeking a 'subreddit about spy stuff'

A former US Army Sergeant with Top Secret US military clearance created a Word document entitled "Important Information to Share with Chinese Government," according to an FBI agent's sworn declaration. Joseph Daniel Schmidt, aged 29, was arrested on Friday in San Francisco after disembarking a flight from Hong Kong, officials …

  1. tiggity Silver badge

    team leader and sergeant

    How did that person manage to be promoted to a team leader and sergeant? From story sounds like they were totally & utterly inept.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: team leader and sergeant

      Thank God he was part of the Human Intelligence squad !

      Can you imagine his actions if he was just a basic grunt ? He might have posted secrets on a Minecraft forum !

      Of course, he'd have to remember them first and, from what I read in the article, remembering things (like operational security, online stealth and spycraft basics) is not his strong point.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: team leader and sergeant

        I'm picturing the Chinese George Smiley reading the email , chuckling softly to himself, polishing his glasses on his tie and then dragging the email to the spam folder

        1. parlei Bronze badge

          Re: team leader and sergeant

          Yes. With some changed names and adjusted tech it sounds like one of those stories about the Soviets trying selling obvious bait to Abwer, them laughing it out out of the building, and then the Gestapo swallowing it with glee and gusto.

          But ok, if what he did was direct troops to collect hard drives and USB sticks in combat zones then that kind of tradecraft would not have been his department.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "The Dream Police. They're coming to arrest me. Oh no...."

          "Among the alleged searches detailed in the court filing were:"

          Good Lord. I write novels and if a search history can be held against you, I'm destined for the blackest of CIA dark sites.

          Location of a Chinese embassy is nothing comparted to how to manufacture Sarin or build a crude, but operational, tactical nuke.

      2. CommonBloke
        Boffin

        Re: team leader and sergeant

        Psshh, everyone knows you leak military secrets in the War Thunder forums!

        1. probgoblin

          Re: team leader and sergeant

          How else would you get your preferred tank buffed, Mr. Never Did Anything Wrong?

        2. Mickey9fingers

          Re: team leader and sergeant

          Or a Discord server as that one Air Force intel teenager.

    2. retiredmonkey

      Re: team leader and sergeant

      Is that a rhetorical question?

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: team leader and sergeant

      From story sounds like they were totally & utterly inept.

      Two words: "US Army".

      The various ex-squaddies I've worked with over the years have a uniformly low opinion of the US army - the prevailing opinion was that they were too reliant on shiny toys and had insuffient training in the business of actually being a proper functional soldier.

      The US Marines were a different kettle of fish. Much closer to UK Marines in training and ethos.

      The US Navy - polite laughter was the usual response.

    4. Blofeld's Cat
      Facepalm

      Re: team leader and sergeant

      Tom Lehrer in his introduction to "It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier", states that the US Army has eliminated discrimination: "by race, creed, colour and also ability".

  2. Ideasource Bronze badge

    Stupidity and intelligence are generally localized along certain branches. The more of your neural real estate is tied up in one specialty the less is available for anything else.

    The more a person relates to the abstract fictions of bureaucracy, they're less able to relate to basic realities.

    Longer a person enjoys the benefits of authorities fiction, the harder it is for them to remember that they're just another frail human existing at the mercy of their surrounding humans.

    They may perceive themselves as untouchable having normalized harbor from natural consequence that tends to come as a privilege of rank.

    The most alienated from reality can't acknowledge anything directly, and can only interact with the world indirectly through formal reports.

    Perhaps having lived so entrenched in deep artificial abstraction so long they have lost touch with direct experience and physical consequence.

    1. Clausewitz4.0 Bronze badge
      Black Helicopters

      The real idiots were the ones pushing this guy to the rank of army sargeant for over 6 years.

      The Intelligent ones are officers.

      The best ones are into politics, diplomacy probably.

  3. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    FAIL

    Worst. Spy. Ever.

    Was the guy trying to get caught? That level of ineptitude suggests deliberate stupidity, although Hanlon's Razor obviously applies.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Worst. Spy. Ever.

      He could run for president, he sounds eminently qualified and it would also give him a few years freedom before they start prosecuting him.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Worst. Spy. Ever.

        attempting to deliver national defense information, and retention of national defense information.

        Might you mean... the Florida resident

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Worst. Spy. Ever.

          Surely the noted Home Alone co-star would never do that

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Worst. Spy. Ever.

            I'm shocked that America's (and Aberdeen's) greatest golfer would do such a thing

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Worst. Spy. Ever.

          No that Orange guy just gave info Nuclar Sub capabilities to and Aussie (Andrew Pratt) who then told about 45 others what the clown told him. Why is Joey locked up but Donny is still free?

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Worst. Spy. Ever.

            The American justice system operates as the inverse of the American health-care system.

            Waiting time is proportional to wealth

          2. Mickey9fingers

            Re: Worst. Spy. Ever.

            Yes Biden giving Putin a list of 16 infrastructure sectors that are off-limits to cyber attacks is up there on the list of incompetence.

            https://cyberscoop.com/biden-putin-summit-russia-geneva/

  4. DS999 Silver badge
    Trollface

    So how did we find him?

    I almost wonder if China turned him in to us saying "c'mon guys if you're gonna send us a plant to feed us fake information at least make the guy believable, we aren't the idiots you apparently take us for!"

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: So how did we find him?

      Our man in San Francisco

    2. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: So how did we find him?

      There have been cases like that before.

      Lee Harvey Oswald petitioned to live in the Soviet Union, and at first the Soviets figured he must be some kind of spy. Like a really bad and obvious plant, so they didn't allow him in for a good while. Think he snuck in and they deported him multiple times, but I could be conflating that part of the story with someone else.

      I personally hope, though it seems like this may be a forlorn one especially with a few idiots in a certain political party wanting to defund the FBI, that anyone who is granted a security clearance is someone the FBI keeps tabs on for the remainder of their life. They don't need to be picking through their garbage or anything, but definitely monitoring for things like suspicious trips or communications with foreign officials. Though, the higher the clearance the person has/had, the more comprehensive the surveillance should be.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: So how did we find him?

        There are millions of people who have security clearances at any one time. There would be tens of millions of who have had a clearance at some point in their lives. Including me, I held a Top Secret clearance at one time (consulting on a project for a branch of the DoD) They would need a lot more FBI agents to do what would effectively be tracking behavior of 1/10th of the US population.

        I wasn't personally exposed to any information that could cause damage to national security if it was exposed (the IP addresses of DoD hardware is classified Top Secret, that's the sort of "secrets" I had access to) If they could figure out which people have access to REAL secrets and which have access to overclassified garbage like I did, maybe the problem becomes more tractable.

        1. Mickey9fingers

          Re: So how did we find him?

          FBI are mostly enforcers. 5Eyes and NSA does the collection and analysis, then refers the intel to whatever concerning agency. CIA is busy snorting coke.

        2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: So how did we find him?

          If I leaked 192.168.0.0/24 to China would I get into trouble?

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: So how did we find him?

            DoD has several /8's, the stuff inside has real IPs not 10.x.x.x or 192.168.x.x.

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: So how did we find him?

              Spaseeba Tovarich

        3. aerogems Silver badge
          FAIL

          Re: So how did we find him?

          Tell me you didn't actually read my post by using a lot of extra words.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So how did we find him?

        Maybe that's how they got the evidence.

      3. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: So how did we find him?

        Depending on the severity, that could just make it even harder to find people who want to do that kind of work in the first place. Government already frequently underpays its staff and puts restrictions on them that a different career option might get. That applies to all governments, but there have been several articles here specifically about the U.S. government failing to find the administrators and programmers that they want. Add in a "oh, and if you work on anything important you will have no privacy for the rest of your life" and that will probably not help their case. Especially with techs, you have to have some reason why they would choose a job in government over one somewhere else, and if you keep adding restrictions, the only answers that will be left are the applicant who accepts is a ridiculously patriotic person who will take any punishment for their beloved country, the applicant can't get a job anywhere else and now that the government can't find anyone qualified, they'll have to deal with them, or the applicant is a spy who is willing to take that job because it's the only way to get information.

        I wouldn't work for a company that wanted the power to surveil me outside of work hours, or for that matter even during work hours if they went far enough. There's no chance I would agree to a lifetime of surveillance, even if I quit. If others are like me, maybe they'd have to do as at least one American military person suggested and start conscripting people with technical skills. I'm sure that will be popular.

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Re: So how did we find him?

          You essentially agree to such surveillance by joining the military, so choosing to have that continue after you leave may not be as difficult a choice as you think. Someone who works with classified information in the military has a much easier path than those without a military background to similar jobs in the civilian world.

          I mean, for my part I agree, I'd never want that. But I would also never want having someone able to order me to scrub latrines or stand guard in the rain all night either so I was never going to be cut out to join the military regardless.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: So how did we find him?

            And, for years, I've been seeing articles where the American military complains that they don't have enough people. This is sometimes generic and they don't have enough of any kind of person, but it also has explicitly included people with technology skills to the extent that I think I've seen two proposals to draft them. So yes, people do consent to that and other invasive things, but clearly not as many people as they would like to do so. Adding more onerous things will only make that problem worse, while easing up on some of them might help attract some of the people they want.

  5. that one in the corner Silver badge

    It is a very rare card to find outside of the intelligence community

    Cut him a break - he is clearly[1] an avid Pokemon player and was just trying to trade a Secret Rare (maybe even an Ultra Rare, given it apparently is only seen in special communities, like the SDCC). All he wanted was a chance to visit all those Pokemon GO gyms in the PRC!

    [1] well, this makes more sense than his believing he was an effective defector

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    first working as an intelligence collector and ultimately becoming a team leader

    a straight, solid career path, great success story, both for the individual and the System.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    part of the Human Intelligence ("HUMINT") squad

    OMG, there's hope for me too!

  8. aerogems Silver badge
    FAIL

    This is just embarrassing

    How did this person manage to get a security clearance in the first place? The FBI seems to be completely asleep at the switch here as this isn't even really an isolated example. There were at least three other examples just in recent months. Clearly there is a need to review and overhaul the process by which people are given security clearances. It also probably wouldn't hurt if we started paying US Military personnel a living wage so this sort of thing was at least slightly less appealing.

    https://www.theregister.com/2023/09/21/it_help_desk_guy_arrested/

    https://www.theregister.com/2023/08/04/us_navy_sailors_china_spies/

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: This is just embarrassing

      >How did this person manage to get a security clearance in the first place?

      He looked alwhiteright in the passport photo

    2. Mickey9fingers

      Re: This is just embarrassing

      Lol liveable wage. They don't have to pay health insurance, taxes, housing, or food while on active duty.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why?

    What did he see in his work that made him want to run from the US?

    That's what I want to know.

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      Quite possibly that spies, the real kind who have important information, can be highly rewarded by countries that want that information. If he had really interesting data about the U.S., maybe China would have happily given him a luxurious early retirement in one of the nicer parts of their country. Of course, it doesn't sound like he had much to offer. After all, I sometimes think how nice it would be if I didn't have to work for a company and could just write the code that interests me, but I'm smart enough to know that I'm unlikely to be the recipient of a bunch of free money, so it's probably a good idea for me to keep earning normally. I wouldn't assume that he saw some dark secret he wanted to escape, because someone like that tends to want to hide, not sell other things to a different government.

  10. FuzzyTheBear
    Facepalm

    hilarious

    That man had to be the sloppiest wannabe spy/traitor that ever walked this earth and the most naive person in the universe.

  11. Blackjack Silver badge

    Maybe they should start making "Are You Dumber Than an Eighth Grader?" tests in the USA army.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Smarter than an 8th grader? That's officer material!

      (Except for the USMC, they still use the 'what order do you eat crayons' test)

  12. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Hold on now...

    That was a real e-mail? Does this mean that I may have reported spam for an actual Nigerian prince offering trillions of dollars?

    I'd like the link to Earth's bug reporting form, please.

  13. david 12 Silver badge

    For whatever reason, he seems to be a bit adrift after leaving the army (late onset schizophrenia?). It seems that now he will be moving back to a more structured life.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yeah I was thinking the prosecution is just so he can be put somewhere safe where he can't hurt himself - looking after ours Vets

  14. garwhale Bronze badge

    The level of incompetence of this wannabe traitor makes me worry about the very slightly less stupid ones who were not caught.

  15. eom

    In court

    Black ops pen testing?

    I'd give it a go, with the laziness employed it might somehow work as an excuse.

    Alternatively

    insane, criminaly

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