NSA Contractor Committed 'Breathtaking' Thefts, DOJ Alleges

The Justice Department alleges Harold Thomas Martin III stole 50TB of data, including materials that were marked "Secret" and "Top Secret."

security breach

Back on Aug. 27, National Security Agency contractor Harold Thomas Martin III was arrested on charges of confidential information theft. Initially investigators found six classified documents in Martin's possession, but on Oct. 20, the U.S. Justice Department alleged that Martin's theft of secrets was vastly larger.

"During execution of the search warrants, investigators seized thousands of pages of documents and dozens of computers and other digital storage devices and media containing, conservatively, fifty terabytes of information," the legal filing against Martin states.

The filing notes that many of the seized materials are marked "Secret" and "Top Secret" from the period of 1996 to 2016. During that period, Martin worked first in the U.S. Naval Reserves and thereafter for seven different private government contracting companies.

"Throughout his government assignments, the Defendant violated that trust by engaging in wholesale theft of classified government documents and property—a course of felonious conduct that is breathtaking in its longevity and scale," the court filing states.

The filing also reveals a potentially dangerous situation that was averted at the time of Martin's arrest. Law enforcement officials recovered 10 firearms from Martin's property, only two of which were properly registered. The government commented that if Martin had taken the classified material for his own edification, as he has claimed, there would be no reason to "… arm himself as though he were trafficking in dangerous contraband."

Martin also allegedly was making use of different technical tools and techniques to stay anonymous online.

"The Defendant's internet activity also suggest that he was attempting to locate anonymous internet access and to run operating systems on his machines that would not leave any forensic evidence of his computer activities," the filing states.

Going a step further, though the government has not publicly identified whether Martin transferred any of the stolen data to another country, he allegedly has communicated online in the Russian language. There is also some additional anecdotal evidence that may point to an effort to release or distribute the stolen materials. One set of printed Top Secret documents found in Martin's car had handwritten notes on it, providing some additional insights.

"On the back of the document are handwritten notes describing the NSA's classified computer infrastructure and detailed descriptions of classified technical operations," the filing states. "The handwritten notes also include descriptions of the most basic concepts associated with classified operations, as if the notes were intended for an audience outside of the Intelligence Community unfamiliar with the details of its operations."

Martin is expected to appear in a U.S. court detention hearing on Oct. 21, which will then determine the next steps, though the government is recommending that he be detained pending trial as it claims Martin poses danger to U.S. national security and is a flight risk.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.