In August the FBI secretly arrested a National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who allegedly stole top secret intelligent information — including highly sensitive computer code the agency has been using to breach the security networks of foreign governments. The arrest, which was reported Wednesday in the New York Times, revealed the accused contractor — Harold Thomas Martin III, 51 — worked at consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. The same company also employed Edward Snowden in 2013, who famously leaked a series of stolen documents exposing U.S. and abroad surveillance programs to journalists.
According to a criminal complaint filed in late August and unsealed Wednesday, Martin was charged with theft of government property and unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents.
Martin was arrested on August 27, following investigator’s execution of a search warrant for his Glen Burnie, Maryland residence. During the raid, officials uncovered numerous hard-copy and digital documents that were classified Top Secret/SCI, the complaint says. Top secret is the highest level of government classification and is defined by the government as material that if disclosed “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”
Besides documents, investigators also say Martin stole US government property that was valued in excess of $1,000.
When FBI agents interviewed Martin after the raid, he initially denied having taken the documents and digital files. He later told the authorities that he knew he was not authorized 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 unauthorized.”
Among the documents the FBI believes Martin stole were some detailing a hacking tool that the NSA developed to break into computer systems in other countries. Documents detailing the tools were leaked online in early August, appearing in a bizarre auction by a group calling itself “The Shadow Brokers,” though some suspected an insider was responsible.
More than a month after his arrest, authorities can still not say with any certainty whether Mr. Martin leaked the information, passed them on to a third party or whether he simply downloaded them. Nor did The Times specifically link the August leak of the NSA’s hacking tool with Martin’s arrest, though the timing would make sense. Although FBI investigators have not concluded Martin’s motivation for stealing the documents, they so far do not believe he did it for a foreign country.
In a brief statement issued Wednesday, 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.”
However, should Martin in fact be implicated in the NSA’s previous leak, it would be another embarrassment for not only the government agency — still reeling from the Edward Snowden leaks — but also Booz Allen Hamilton, which employed them both as contract workers.
Martin faces a maximum of one year in prison on charges of theft of government property and unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials.