A contractor with experience working for the State and Justice Departments has been apprehended and accused of spying for Ethiopia, as per multiple knowledgeable U.S. officials.
The individual in question, Abraham T. Lemma, aged 50 and residing in Silver Spring, Md., faces two charges under the Espionage Act and was taken into custody last month. The case details are currently undisclosed and remain sealed in the Federal District Court in Washington. It is anticipated that the information will be made public sometime this week. Efforts to contact Mr. Lemma’s lawyer and family have been unsuccessful.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Mr. Lemma works part-time as a systems analyst for the State Department and has been employed at the department’s Diplomatic Security Service since 2019.
Mr. Lemma’s connection to Ethiopia, a country that receives significant aid from the United States, is peculiar.
Numerous recent espionage cases pursued by the Justice Department involve China’s multifaceted attempts to infiltrate American corporations and government agencies. These efforts range from stealing trade secrets and economic intelligence to recruiting individuals within the United States as spies or to intimidate dissidents. Last month, two members of the U.S. Navy were charged with spying for China, accused of stealing military secrets and sensitive information.
The United States and Ethiopia have a longstanding partnership, and it is currently unclear what sensitive information Mr. Lemma, a University of Baltimore graduate, had acquired or how long he had been assisting the country.
However, it is not uncommon for friendly nations to seek information within the United States to provide their leaders with real-time political, economic, or military intelligence, as confirmed by current and former U.S. officials.
Likewise, the U.S. spy agencies’ extensive reach was evident in the case of Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, who allegedly posted a trove of sensitive government documents on an online gaming platform. These documents revealed the broad intelligence operations carried out by U.S. agencies, even within the capitals of friendly nations like Egypt, South Korea, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates. The documents included C.I.A. briefings that disclosed private conversations at high levels of government, obtained through signals intelligence or electronic eavesdropping.
Although the leak demonstrated the extensive reach of the United States, the diplomatic response to the disclosure was subdued. This is partly because foreign governments have come to view such activities as routine since Edward Snowden’s revelation of a sophisticated global surveillance network that intercepted emails and phone calls from both friends and foes.
Ethiopia, situated on the geopolitically critical Horn of Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world. It faces challenges such as drought, famine, political unrest, and violent conflicts with neighboring Eritrea.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his efforts to restart peace negotiations with Eritrea. However, in 2020, clashes erupted between Ethiopia’s military and a paramilitary group in the northern Tigray region, resulting in tens of thousands of casualties.
Since 2020, the United States has provided over $3 billion in aid to Ethiopia for its recovery from civil war and drought, according to the State Department.
This year, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited Ethiopia as part of an initiative to strengthen ties with the United States in the face of increased influence from Russia and China.
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