Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

Espionage Charges Leveled at Former NSA Contractor for Stealing Hacking Tools

Harold T. Martin III has been facing up to 10 years in prison for allegedly stealing classified government information, but he may soon face another 30 years as prosecutors plan to file espionage charges against him.

In any case, the former contractor for the National Security Agency is not going anywhere for a long time. Unlike Eric Snowden who fled the country after he leaked classified information, Martin is in jail.

Theft of Classified Information

Prosecutors allege that Martin, who worked for the same government contractor as Snowden, committed the biggest theft of classified information in U.S. history. The volume of information -- 50 terabytes of digital data -- dwarfs the hundreds of thousands of documents taken by Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong in 2013.

More critically, information about the government's hacking tools and tactics was leaked. That leak may seal the case against Martin for violating the Espionage Act by "willfully" retaining information that relates to the national defense, including classified data such as NSA hacking tools and operational plans against "a known enemy" of the United States.

"Without a doubt, they're the keys to the kingdom," said one former agency employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity at the time. "The stuff you're talking about would undermine the security of a lot of major government and corporate networks both here and abroad."

Data Breach Dwarfed Snowden's

Martin was working at the National Security Agency until Aug. 27, 2016, when FBI agents stormed his home. They found a "trove" of classified material, including 75 percent of the agency's hacking tools, inside his house, a shed and his car. Martin had worked in the NSA's elite hacker unit, Tailored Access Operations, which makes software to penetrate foreign targets' computer networks for espionage purposes.

The FBI acted after a group called the Shadow Brokers exposed online the cyberwarfare tactics of NSA days earlier. The leak revealed code information that linked the federal government to a worm that disrupted Iran's nuclear program and the Flame malware platform targeting the Middle East.

"The damage from this release is huge, both to our ability to protect ourselves on the internet and our ability to provide intelligence to policy makers and the military," Dave Aitel, a former government intelligence worker, said then.

A Hoarder, Not a Hacker

Defense attorneys have claimed that Martin did not steal the classified documents, but rather took work home to improve his job skills. They say he hoarded the information.

"This is the behavior of a compulsive hoarder who could not stop gathering and possessing the documents he treasured," his lawyer James Wyda said at the detention hearing.

Prosecutors, who have taken almost six months to connect Martin to the leak, are not commenting on the new espionage charges. Reports say they will file this week.

Related Resources: