U.S.: Ex-con­trac­tor com­mit­ted ‘breath­tak­ing’ theft of se­crets

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Eric Tucker

A former Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency con­trac­tor’s theft of top se­cret govern­ment in­for­ma­tion was “breath­tak­ing in its longevity and scale,” fed­eral prose­cu­tors said in a court fil­ing Thurs­day aimed at keep­ing the man locked up as the case moves for­ward. They said he took enough clas­si­fied ma­te­rial to fill roughly 200 lap­top com­put­ers.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment also said it an­tic­i­pated bring­ing ad­di­tional charges against Harold T. Martin III, in­clud­ing charges un­der the Es­pi­onage Act, which would ex­pose him to far harsher penal­ties if con­victed. It de­scribed the evidence against him as “over­whelm­ing” and said Martin ad­mit­ted to in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he was il­lic­itly stor­ing clas­si­fied ma­te­ri­als.

The court pa­pers of­fered new de­tails about the enor­mous vol­ume of in­for­ma­tion prose­cu­tors be­lieve Martin stole and re­vealed the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s con­cern that Martin is or could be in con­tact with a for­eign govern­ment. Prose­cu­tors said Martin has had on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tion in Rus­sian and — rais­ing the specter of a sit­u­a­tion akin to pre­vi­ous NSA leaker Ed­ward Snow­den — said that if Martin were freed he “could seek refuge with a for­eign govern­ment will­ing to shield him from fac­ing jus­tice.”

“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.

A de­ten­tion hear­ing was sched­uled for Fri­day af­ter­noon in Bal­ti­more. Martin’s at­tor­neys said he never in­tended to be­tray his coun­try and does not pose a dan­ger or flight risk. They said Martin, a former lieu­tenant in the U.S. Navy, does not have a valid pass­port and dis­missed as “fan­tas­ti­cal sce­nar­ios” con­cerns that he might flee.

Martin was ar­rested at his Mary­land home in Au­gust around the same time as fed­eral of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edged an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a cy­ber­leak of pur­ported hack­ing tools used by the NSA. Those doc­u­ments were leaked by a group call­ing it­self the “Shadow Bro­kers,” but there is noth­ing in court fil­ings that ex­plic­itly con­nects Martin to that group.

Prose­cu­tors said agents who searched Martin’s home and car seized dozens of com­put­ers and elec­tronic de­vices, then found clas­si­fied govern­ment ma­te­ri­als from 1996 to 2016 and some 50 ter­abytes of in­for­ma­tion — or enough to fill 200 lap­tops. One doc­u­ment marked as “Top Se­cret/Sensitive Com­part­mented In­for­ma­tion” in­cluded “spe­cific op­er­a­tional plans against a known en­emy of the United States,” ac­cord­ing to the court fil­ing.

The in­for­ma­tion in­cludes an email chain marked as “Top Se­cret” that ap­peared to have been printed from an of­fi­cial govern­ment ac­count. On the back of the doc­u­ment, prose­cu­tors said, were hand­writ­ten notes de­scrib­ing the NSA’s clas­si­fied com­puter in­fra­struc­ture. The notes, which in­clude ba­sic con­cepts about clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion, ap­pear “in­tended for an au­di­ence out­side of the In­tel­li­gence Com­mu­nity,” the govern­ment said.

Prose­cu­tors also cited Martin’s use of tech­nolo­gies de­signed to en­crypt com­mu­ni­ca­tion and al­low for on­line anonymity. They said Martin, who had been trained in com­puter se­cu­rity and at the time of his ar­rest was en­rolled in a doc­toral pro­gram on in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity man­age­ment, ap­peared to be try­ing to con­nect to the in­ter­net anony­mously us­ing a spe­cial­ized op­er­at­ing sys­tem.

The govern­ment was likely re­fer­ring to Tails, a Linux-based op­er­at­ing sys­tem that ap­pears sim­i­lar to Mi­crosoft Win­dows — but makes web brows­ing prac­ti­cally anony­mous. It also van­ishes once the com­puter restarts.

Be­cause sys­tems like Tails di­rect in­ter­net traf­fic through a global net­work called Tor, it’s harder for au­thor­i­ties to trace a user’s in­ter­net ad­dress or cap­ture iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion about them. The op­er­at­ing sys­tem and the Tor net­work it­self are largely used by jour­nal­ists, ac­tivists and oth­ers who have a safety in­ter­est in keep­ing their web brows­ing habits a se­cret.

Martin, a former con­trac­tor at Booz Allen Hamil­ton, had ac­cess to clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion since 1996, the govern­ment said.

His ar­rest was a fur­ther blow to the NSA, com­ing three years af­ter Snow­den — an­other NSA con­trac­tor who also worked at Booz Allen — dis­closed to jour­nal­ists de­tails about govern­ment sur­veil­lance pro­grams. Snow­den, who now lives in Moscow, was charged in his ab­sence un­der the Es­pi­onage Act.

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

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