For the second time in three years, a contractor is said to have stolen highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA).
Harold Martin III of Glen Burnie, Md., was arrested in late August and charged with stealing government property that includes six highly classified documents, according to a statement the Justice Department released Wednesday, when the criminal complaint against Mr. Martin was unsealed.
Like Edward Snowden, Martin was a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm that is responsible for the construction and operation of many of the spy agency’s most sensitive cyberoperations, according to The New York Times.
The news marks another embarrassment for the NSA and Washington, But investigators said they do not suspect Martin was politically motivated – “not like a Snowden or someone who believes that what we were doing was illegal and wanted to publicize that,” the Times reported.
Among the documents and digital files Martin is suspected of stealing are computer codes the agency developed to break into the computer systems of adversaries such as Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. Some of the information dates back to 2014.
When Martin was arrested on August 27, authorities searched his home, his car, and two nearby sheds. They discovered highly classified documents stored as hard copies or on digital devices and other removable digital media, according to the Justice Department statement. According to the complaint, six classified documents were found that were acquired from "sensitive intelligence and produced by a government agency in 2014." The Justice Department said the documents are "currently and properly classified as Top Secret," which means "unauthorized disclosure reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the US."
When Martin agreed at the time to be interviewed by the FBI, he denied taking the documents and digital files.
"Later when confronted with specific documents, [he] admitted he took documents and digital files from his work assignment to his residence and vehicle that he knew were classified," according to the complaint, despite not having the authorization to do so. "Martin stated that he knew what he had done was wrong and that he should not have done it because he knew it was unauthorized."
Martin has been in custody since a secret court appearance in Baltimore on August 29, shortly after he was arrested.
"There is no evidence that Hal Martin intended to betray his country," his public defenders, James Wyda and Deborah Boardman, said in a statement. "What we do know is that Hal Martin loves his family and his country. He served honorably as a lieutenant in the United States Navy, and he has devoted his entire career to serving his country. We look forward to defending Hal Martin in court."
Motivation is the question investigators are trying to wrap their heads around. Aside from sharing the same employer, and both embarrassing the NSA, Martin and Mr. Snowden don’t have much else in common. In 2013, Snowden, also a contractor for Booz Hamilton, stole 1.5 million documents that were later passed onto journalists to expose NSA surveillance programs in the United States and abroad.
Snowden said he was inspired by Thomas Drake and Chelsea Manning, who claimed they leaked documents to reveal government wrongdoing.
Martin, who doesn't fit the profile of previous leakers, remains a mystery to investigators, as the Times first wrote.
It is not clear when and how the authorities first learned the contractor’s identity, when they believe he began taking information, or whether he passed it to people outside the government. It is also not known whether he is believed to be responsible for a leak of classified N.S.A. code attributed to a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, or whether he had any role in a series of leaks of N.S.A. intercepts involving Japan, Germany and other countries that WikiLeaks has published since last year.
Martin could face up to a year in prison for the unauthorized removal and possession of the classified materials, and 10 years in prison for stealing government property, according to CBS News.
This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.