A nuclear scientist formerly employed by the federal government admitted Tuesday that he tried to infect the computers of about 80 government employees whom he believed had access to nuclear materials and weapons.
According to court documents released by the Department of Justice, the scientist, Charles Eccleston, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted unauthorized access to a protected computer.
Until he was fired in 2011, Eccleston worked for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a federal agency that oversees civilian use of radioactive materials. During his time at the commission, he held a security clearance in order to work on nuclear-energy issues, according to the documents. A year after his federal government job ended, he moved to Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
In 2013, Eccleston went to the Manila embassy of an unidentified foreign country, and offered to sell foreign officials a list of thousands of federal employees’ email accounts for $18,800. He said the addresses were “top secret” and used for official communication. As a negotiating ploy, he said he would take the list to China, Venezuela, or Iran if the embassy didn’t want them.
The foreign officials said they were interested, but unfortunately for Eccleston, they went straight to the FBI. Eccleston shared a plan with a foreign spy who was really an undercover FBI agent: He would set up a website for a fake conference, and distribute a link to the website to his list of NRC employees. Once they clicked on the link, they’d download a virus to their computers, which would allow the foreign country to monitor the U.S. employees’ computer use.