WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. 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 N.S.A. In 2013, Edward J. Snowden, 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 III of Glen Burnie, Md., according to a criminal complaint filed in late August and unsealed Wednesday. Mr. Martin, who at the time of his arrest was working as a contractor for the Defense Department after leaving the N.S.A., was charged with theft of government property and the unauthorized removal or retention of classified documents.
Mr. Martin, 51, was arrested during an F.B.I. raid on his home on Aug. 27. A neighbor, Murray Bennett, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that two dozen F.B.I. agents wearing military-style uniforms and armed with long guns stormed the house and later escorted Mr. Martin out in handcuffs.
According to court documents, the F.B.I. 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.
Video Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, says the possible theft of classified government material is a reminder for vigilance..
When F.B.I. 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 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.”
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 issued Wednesday, lawyers for Mr. 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 Mr. 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 antisecrecy 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 unauthorized disclosures of classified information.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, defended the Obama administration’s procedures for protecting national security information, arguing on Wednesday 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 slashed 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.
Another administration official said that investigators suspected that Mr. Martin began taking the material before Mr. Snowden’s actions became public, adding that reforms put into place after Mr. Snowden’s theft would not have stopped Mr. Martin.
“This is something that has its origins certainly before Snowden came on the scene, so many of the forms that have been in place since 2013 wouldn’t be relevant to stopping what happened,” the official said.
Adm. Michael Rogers, the N.S.A. director, in March. He was brought in to restore the agency’s credibility and open it to more scrutiny.
JIM WILSON / THE NEW YORK TIMES
The information believed to have been stolen by Mr. Martin appears to be different in nature from Mr. Snowden’s theft, which included documents that described the depth and breadth of the N.S.A.’s surveillance.
Mr. 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.
Several officials said that at the moment it did not look like a traditional espionage case, but the F.B.I. has not ruled anything out.
Mr. Martin does not fit any of the usual profiles of an “insider threat,” and one administration official said that investigators thought that he was not politically motivated — “not like a Snowden or someone who believes that what we were doing was illegal and wanted to publicize that.”
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.
Law enforcement officials said that the F.B.I. was investigating the possibility that he had collected the files with no intention of passing them along. That by itself would represent a serious security vulnerability, but it would put Mr. Martin in the company of countless other senior Washington officials who have been caught taking classified information home. One of the officials described Mr. Martin as a hoarder.
Samuel R. Berger, a former national security adviser, stole classified documents from the National Archives and hid them under a construction trailer. Alberto R. Gonzales took home documents about the nation’s warrantless wiretapping program home with him while he was attorney general. As C.I.A. director, John M. Deutch kept classified information on his home computer.
Law enforcement officials are also looking into whether Mr. Martin was able to pass the information on, but are also entertaining a theory that he took it with that intention and then did not follow through.
But there are many unanswered questions about Mr. Martin’s case, including when and how the authorities learned this identity, and when they believe he began taking information. It is also not known if the case has any connection to the leak of classified N.S.A. code in August 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.
“We’re struggling to figure him out,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because no indictment has been publicly released.
For the N.S.A., which spent two years and hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars repairing the damage done by Mr. Snowden, a second insider leaking the agency’s information would be devastating. The agency’s director, Adm. Michael Rogers, who previously ran the Navy’s Fleet Cyber Command, was brought in to restore the agency’s credibility, open it to more scrutiny and fix the problems that allowed Mr. Snowden to sweep up hundreds of thousands of documents.
It is also problematic for Booz Allen, which has built much of its business on providing highly technical services to the N.S.A. and other intelligence agencies.
When the company “learned of the arrest of one of its employees by the FBI,” Booz Allen said in a statement on Wednesday, “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.”
The post N.S.A. Contractor Arrested in Possible New Theft of Secrets appeared first on Tea Party Tribune.