Theft by former NSA worker much worse than thought, prosecutors allege

A former National Security Agency contractor is accused of a theft that was 'breathtaking in its longevity and scale,' prosecutors say.

Patrick Semansky/AP/File
The photo shows the sign outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md. A contractor for the National Security Agency has been arrested on charges that he illegally removed highly classified information and stored the material in his house and car, federal prosecutors announced on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016.

A former National Security Agency contractor accused of stealing hoards of top secret government information is set to face more serious charges than previously announced, with prosecutors hoping to prevent him from being released on bail.

According to the federal prosecutors’ court filing on Thursday, Harold T. Martin III committed a theft that was "breathtaking in its longevity and scale," stealing enough material to fill up to 200 laptop computers, according to the Associated Press. The information includes "specific operational plans against a known enemy of the United States," and handwritten notes with explanations that the government says is intended for an "audience outside of the Intelligence Community."

"Given the nature of his offenses and knowledge of national secrets, he presents tremendous value to any foreign power that may wish to shelter him within or outside of the United States," prosecutors said. Prosecutors argue that Mr. Martin should not be released on bail because he is "a risk to the nation and to the physical safety of others," The Washington Post reports.

Martin is under particular scrutiny as government officials are eager to prevent him from following in the footsteps of Edward Snowden, another ex-NSA contractor who leaked classified information about the agency's surveillance activities to journalists in 2013, and was granted asylum by Russia. While Martin’s motives have not been revealed, prosecutors may also be especially alert following the recent case of a hacking group purportedly selling NSA hacking tools online and suspicions of foreign government hacking attempts to influence US political systems.

Defense attorneys dismissed the fears as "fantastical scenarios" since Martin doesn’t have a valid passport and did not intend to give information to any other country. Martin is a former lieutenant for the US Navy, and since 1996 has had access to classified data. He and his wife live in Maryland, where he was arrested in August.

"There is no evidence he intended to betray his country," Martin’s lawyers said, as reported by The Washington Post. "The government simply does not meet its burden of showing that no conditions of release would reasonably assure Mr. Martin’s future appearance in court."

But claiming that they have "overwhelming" evidence against him, the Justice Department plans to charge Martin under the Espionage Act, which could include prison time for up to 10 years for each count.

Agents who searched Martin’s home and car found dozens of computers and electronic devices storing classified government materials dating from 1996 to 2016. Martin had used encrypted communication technology that provides online anonymity, prosecutors noted, and had 10 firearms in his possession, of which only two were registered. 

"The evidence is overwhelming that the defendant abused this trust and chose to repeatedly violate his agreements, his oaths and the law and to retain extremely sensitive government information to use however he wished," prosecutors said.

But investigations so far have not found any conclusive links between Martin and foreign governments or the hacking group involved in leaking NSA tools online.

A detention hearing is schedule to take place Friday afternoon in Baltimore. If Martin is charged with the Espionage Act, the Obama administration will have set the record of prosecuting the most people under the law than all previous presidents combined, as Reuters reports.

This report includes information from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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