NSA contractor under investigation for theft of classified information

Man in a suit with a classified folder

Earlier this week, several publications broke the news of a secret F.B.I. arrest of Harold Thomas Martin III, a former NSA contractor. Although the 51-year-old was arrested during a raid on his home on August 27, the incident was kept out of the public eye until now.

Mr. Martin was reportedly arrested on charges of “theft of government property,” as well as the “unauthorized removal or retention of classified documents.” According to the court documents released this Wednesday, the contractor stole “many terabytes of sensitive information,” and supposedly kept it at his home and car.

According to the New York Times mentioned, among the thousands of stolen documents might have been a highly classified computer code that was developed by the NSA with the intention of breaking into the networks of foreign governments. Mr. Martin is still under investigation for possibly leaking the top secret project online.

In a response to the arrest, Martin’s lawyer stated that there was no evidence that his client betrayed the US – “a country that he very much loves.” That said, the contractor was caught virtually red-handed in possession of at least six documents classified as top secret. Contents of these documents remain unknown, but according to the Justice Department, their disclosure could cause “grave damage” to the national security of the United States.

If the allegations are in fact true, the incident will be a huge setback for the Obama administration who, in the aftermath of the Snowden leaks, implemented a number of drastic measures in order to prevent unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

While Martin was arrested more than a month ago, the authorities have not yet stated (with absolute certainty) whether or not the contractor had actually leaked or shared any of the classified information in his possession. The FBI is also investigating the possibility that Mr. Martin “simply” downloaded the files with no intention of sharing them with anyone.

Even if the latter is true, this incident still highlights a serious security flaw within the agency. That being said, Martin isn’t the first Washington official caught taking sensitive information home, and likely won’t be the last.

On top of the many obvious security implications of the scandal, this arrest raises yet another interesting prospect. Prior to the arrest, Martin worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm that does a fair bit of work for various government agencies. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because this isn’t the first time that a Booz Allen Hamilton employee managed to steal sensitive (and highly damaging) information while contracting for the NSA.

You might remember that back in 2013, a little-known whistleblower by the name of Edward Snowden, managed to leak a trove of classified documents revealing the details of NSA’s global surveillance programs to the world. Since then, the agency spent thousands of men hours and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in an effort to remedy the damage done by the revelation. A second data breach (even on a smaller magnitude) would be devastating.

As of now, many unanswered questions remain. For starters, it’s uncertain how the agency learned of the possible breach, or when they first found out that Martin was stealing classified information. Additionally, it’s not known whether or not this incident is in any way related to the recent NSA code leak by the Shadow Brokers group, or if it’s somehow connected to the series of leaks of NSA intercepts published by WikiLeaks over the course of the last year.

As you can see, there is a lot of speculation surrounding this case, but more information is needed in order to properly piece this together. Until the investigation is complete, Mr. Martin remains in custody of law enforcement officials.

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