Secret Arrest Of A National Security Agency Contractor

The FBI secretly arrested a former National Security Agency contractor in August and, according to law enforcement officials, is investigating whether he stole and disclosed highly classified computer code developed by the agency to hack into the networks of foreign governments.

The arrest raises the embarrassing prospect that for the second time in three years, a contractor for the consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton managed to steal highly damaging secret information while working for the NSA. In 2013, Edward Snowden, (pictures) who was also a Booz Allen contractor, took a vast trove of documents from the agency that were later passed to journalists, exposing surveillance programs in the United States and abroad.

The contractor was identified as Harold T. Martin of Glen Burnie, according to a criminal complaint filed in late August and unsealed recently. Mr. Martin, who at the time of his arrest was working as a contractor for the Defense Department after leaving the NSA, was charged with theft of government property and the unauthorised removal or retention of classified documents.

Martin, 51, was arrested during an FBI raid on his home on Aug. 27. A neighbor, Murray Bennett, said in a telephone interview that two dozen FBI agents wearing military-style uniforms and armed with long guns stormed the house, and later escorted Martin out in handcuffs.

According to court documents, the FBI. discovered thousands of pages of documents and dozens of computers or other electronic devices at his home and in his car, a large amount of it classified. The digital media contained “many terabytes of information,” according to the documents. They also discovered classified documents that had been posted online, including computer code, officials said. Some of the documents were produced in 2014.

But more than a month later, the authorities cannot say with certainty whether Mr. Martin leaked the information, passed them on to a third party or whether he simply downloaded them.

When FBI agents interviewed Mr. Martin after the raid, he initially denied having taken the documents and digital files, according to the complaint. But he later told the authorities that he knew he was not authorised to have the materials. He told the agents, according to the complaint, that “he knew what he had done was wrong and that he should not have done it because he knew it was unauthorised.”

The Justice Department unsealed the complaint, which was filed in United States District Court in Baltimore, after The New York Times notified the government it intended to publish a story about Mr. Martin.

In a brief statement, lawyers for Martin said: “We have not seen any evidence. But what we know is that Hal Martin loves his family and his country. There is no evidence that he intended to betray his country.”

If true, the allegations against Martin are a setback for the Obama administration, which has sustained a series of disclosures of classified information. 

Along with Mr. Snowden’s revelations, the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks in 2010 disclosed hundreds of thousands of documents from the State and Defense Departments. In the aftermath of the Snowden disclosures, the administration took steps to put measures in place to prevent the unauthorised disclosures of classified information.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, defended the Obama administration’s procedures for protecting national security information, arguing that since Mr. Snowden’s disclosures, agencies have tightened their security measures. He cited the creation of a task force that sets and monitors security requirements for agencies that handle classified information, and an overhaul of the government’s background check process, including adding more frequent updates.

The administration has also lowered the number of employees that have access to classified information, Mr. Earnest said, reducing it by 17 percent in the past couple of years.

“The president’s got a lot of confidence that the vast majority of people who serve this country in the national security arena, particularly our professionals in the intelligence community, are genuine American patriots,” Mr. Earnest said.

The information believed to have been stolen by Martin appears to be different in nature from Mr. Snowden’s theft, which included documents that described the depth and breadth of the NSA’s surveillance.

Martin is suspected of taking the highly classified computer code developed by the agency to break into computer systems of adversaries like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, some of it outdated.

Mr. Martin, a Navy veteran, has degrees in economics and information systems and has been working for a decade on a Ph.D. in computer science. Neighbors described him as cordial and helpful but knew little about his work.

It is also problematic for Booz Allen, which has built much of its business on providing highly technical services to the NSA and other intelligence agencies. Booz Allen said in a statement, “we immediately reached out to the authorities to offer our total cooperation in their investigation, and we fired the employee. We continue to cooperate fully with the government on its investigation into this serious matter.”

NYT
 

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