image copyrightGetty Imagesimage captionProsecutors said Mariam Thompson's actions endangered the lives of US troops and sources in Iraq (file photo)

A US military linguist has been jailed for 23 years for passing classified information to a foreign national linked to the Lebanese Islamist militant group Hezbollah.

Mariam Thompson, 62, admitted sharing the names of US informants in Iraq to a man she was romantically-linked with.

She said she had been "desperate" for "someone to love me in my old age" and did not set out to harm anyone.

Prosecutors said she knew she was putting US sources and troops at risk.

"Thompson's sentence reflects the seriousness of her violation of the trust of the American people, of the human sources she jeopardised and of the troops who worked at her side as friends and colleagues," John Demers, head of the Justice Department's national security division, said on Wednesday.

  • US veteran arrested for passing secrets to Russia
  • Singapore man admits being Chinese spy in US
  • Former US intelligence analyst charged with leaks

A Lebanon-born US citizen, Thompson worked as a contract linguist at an overseas US military facility, where she was entrusted with a top-secret government security clearance.

During this posting in 2017, she became romantically involved with a man who said he had ties to Hezbollah and the Lebanese government, prosecutors said.

A Shia Islamist political party and militant group, Hezbollah wields considerable power in Lebanon and has close relations with Iran.

Over time, Thompson developed a close relationship with the man, whom she communicated with on secure video and messaging apps.

Prosecutors said US military operations in Iraq prompted Thompson to turn over sensitive information to the man in 2020.

In December 2019, while Thompson was assigned to a Special Operations Task Force facility in Iraq, the US had launched a series of air strikes in Iraq targeting Kataib Hezbollah, a US-designated foreign terrorist organisation.

Then, in January 2020, the US launched another air strike that resulted in the death of Qasem Soleimani, Iran's most powerful military commander at the time.

Soon after this, Thompson's love interest approached her for information on who had helped the US target Soleimani.

media captionQasem Soleimani: Who was Iran's 'rock star' general?

Acting on this request, the linguist handed over dozens of files about intelligence sources, which she accessed on US military computer systems.

Thompson provided her co-conspirator with the identities of at least eight sources, at least 10 US targets, and multiple tactics, techniques and procedures.

Thompson was arrested by FBI agents at an overseas US base in February 2020. She was charged with violating espionage laws a month later.

In court, prosecutors argued for a 30-year sentence given the "real threats" Thompson's leaks posed.

image copyrightGetty Imagesimage captionThompson was asked to divulge information after the air strike that killed Qasem Soleimani

Thompson pleaded for leniency, telling the court she did not intend to hurt American soldiers or "do damage to our national security".

"I just wanted to have someone to love me in my old age, and because I was desperate for that love I forgot who I was for a short period of time," Thompson was quoted as saying by the Washington Post newspaper.

District Judge John Bates gave her a shorter sentence of 23 years, saying it reflected the seriousness of the offences, but took into account she was a sympathetic individual.

"This case should serve as a clear reminder to all of those entrusted with national defence information that unilaterally disclosing such information for personal gain, or that of others, is not selfless or heroic; it is criminal," said Alan Kohler Jr, assistant director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division.