A former Hanford nuclear reservation scientist has been sentenced to prison for an attempted attack on Department of Energy computers.
Charles Harvey Eccleston, 62, was sentenced this week to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to one count of attempted damage to DOE computers.
He also must forfeit $9,000, the amount the FBI paid to Eccleston during an undercover investigation.
“Charles Harvey Eccleston is a scientist and former government employee who was willing to betray his country and his former employer out of spite,” said U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia.
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Eccleston intended to allow foreign nations to gain access to sensitive information related to nuclear weapons or to damage essential computer systems, said John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security.
Eccleston grew up in Yakima and took a job at Hanford working for Westinghouse about 1988, according to court documents. He later worked for Fluor Daniel Hanford.
He was a principal scientist specializing in National Environmental Protection Act matters until the early 2000s, when he formed a consulting firm.
Eccleston’s sentence holds him accountable for his attempt to compromise, exploit and damage U.S. government computer systems that contained sensitive nuclear weapon-related information.
John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security
During his career, he served on two White House-sponsored environmental task forces, published 10 books and received national awards from the National Association of Environmental Professionals, documents said.
His career went south when he was hired by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008, but he lost that job two years later because of performance and conduct issues, documents said. He moved to the Philippines, where his wife was from, and filed for bankruptcy.
In 2013, he entered an unidentified foreign embassy in the Philippines and offered to sell a list of more than 5,000 email accounts of NRC workers, according to the Department of Justice.
He claimed he had access to the agency’s network because he held a top secret security clearance, and would next shop the email accounts to China, Iran or Venezuela, according to the Department of Justice.
The country he approached contacted the FBI, which began an undercover investigation.
Eccleston told undercover agents that the addresses could be used to infect NRC servers with a virus when workers clicked on them or to send large quantities of emails to overwhelm and shut down the NRC servers, documents said. He offered to help the undercover FBI officers develop and implement a plan.
Mr. Eccleston recognizes the severity of his conduct that led to the charges in this case and that he is completely responsible for his incarceration.
The FBI purchased 1,200 NRC email addresses, which turned out to be publicly available, documents said.
Eccleston continued to email and meet with undercover FBI agents and discussed providing email accounts of DOE employees, including those designing and building U.S. nuclear weapons, documents said.
During the meetings he said he used to be a “hardcore patriot” but was not happy anymore. He criticized President Obama as “the worst president in 100 years” and said he was mad at the NRC and considered “not worthy” by those above him in the agency.
On Jan. 15, 2015, Eccleston sent 80 emails advertising a nuclear conference with a link supplied by undercover agents that he wrongly believed contained a computer virus. Many of those he sent it to worked at national laboratories. Eccleston believed they had information related to nuclear materials or weapons, documents said.
Eccleston was detained in March 2015 after a meeting with an FBI undercover employee, at which he expected to be paid about $80,000 for sending the emails.
He was deported to the United States to face criminal charges and has been in custody since, according to the Department of Justice.
“Mr. Eccleston recognizes the severity of his conduct that led to the charges in this case and that he is completely responsible for his incarceration,” his attorney said in court documents.
“He deeply regrets his conduct and wants nothing more than to return to the law-abiding life he led for 60 years before walking into that foreign embassy in Manila.”