WASHINGTON, Xinhua– A U.S. government contractor who worked for the same company as whistleblower Edward Snowden has been secretly arrested for the alleged theft and disclosure of highly classified computer codes developed to hack foreign government networks, the U.S. Justice Department and media reports said Wednesday.
Harold Thomas Martin III, 51, worked for the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and was suspected of taking the highly classified “source code” reportedly developed by the National Security Agency (NSA) to break into computer systems of adversaries like Russia, China, Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The New York Times quoted two government officials as saying some of the information Martin is suspected of taking was dated, while the Washington Post reported that investigators are probing whether Martin was responsible for an apparent leak that led to some of the most powerful NSA hacking tools appearing online in August.
Martin was arrested on Aug. 27, during a search of his residence in Glen Burnie, Maryland, where investigators found documents and digital information stored on various devices that contained “highly classified information” belonging to the U.S. government, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday by the U.S. Justice Department.
Among the materials were “six classified documents obtained from sensitive intelligence and produced by a government agency in 2014,” the complaint said. “These documents were produced through sensitive government sources, methods, and capabilities, which are critical to a variety of national security issues. The disclosure of the documents would reveal those sensitive sources, methods, and capabilities.”
In addition, investigators found government property valued at more than 1,000 U.S. dollars at Martin’s residence or in his vehicle, which he allegedly stole.
Martin voluntarily agreed to be interviewed by investigators, during which he “at first denied, and later when confronted with specific documents, admitted he took documents and digital files from his work assignment to his residence and vehicle that he knew were classified,” the complaint said.
The department said Martin had stated that he knew he did not have authorization to retain the materials at his residence or in his vehicle. According to the complaint, he told investigators that “he knew what he had done was wrong and that he should not have done it because he knew it was unauthorized.”
Martin appeared in court on Aug. 29 and remained detained. If convicted, he would face a maximum sentence of one year in prison for stealing classified materials, and 10 years in prison for theft of government property, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland said in a statement.James Wyda, Martin’s lawyer, told the Baltimore Sun the charges only represented the first step in the process.
“There’s no evidence that … Martin has betrayed his country,” Wyda said. “What we do know is that … Martin loves his family and his country. He served this nation honorably in the U.S. Navy and he has devoted his entire career to protecting his country.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama “takes quite seriously” the alleged theft of materials classified as top secret by a government contractor. “It is a good reminder for all of us with security clearances about how important it is for us to protect sensitive national security information,” Earnest told reporters.
The New York Times said a second insider leaking the NSA’s information would be “a devastating blow” to the agency, which “spent two years and hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars repairing the damage done” by Snowden. In 2013, Snowden copied and leaked classified information from the NSA, exposing the U.S. agency’s surveillance programs in the United States and abroad.
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