National Security

For indicted NSA contractor, hoarding classified documents became an obsession

Harold T. Martin, who was indicted Wednesday for taking classified material, is a former contractor at the National Security Agency, a sprawling intelligence organization based at Fort Meade, Md.
Harold T. Martin, who was indicted Wednesday for taking classified material, is a former contractor at the National Security Agency, a sprawling intelligence organization based at Fort Meade, Md. AP

Prosecutors Wednesday indicted a former U.S. intelligence contractor on charges of stealing highly classified documents, nearly six months after investigators swooped down on his Maryland home and found “breathtaking” quantities of top-secret information, some of it stored in a shed and in his car.

Prosecutors slapped 20 felony counts on Harold T. Martin III, 52, accusing him of willful retention of national defense information. Each count carries a potential 10-year jail term.

But they did not charge Martin with the more serious crime of espionage, an indication that investigators had found no evidence that Martin passed classified information to a foreign government or anyone else. Rather, he appeared to be a compulsive hoarder.

The 12-page indictment accuses Martin of removing classified information during a 20-year period when he was employed by seven different private companies working for parts of the U.S. intelligence community, then amassing the top-secret material in his Glen Burnie, Maryland, home.

Martin “flagrantly abused the trust placed in him by the government,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein of the District of Maryland.

Another official said contractors and insiders within the intelligence community could cause ruinous damage when they flouted strict secrecy regulations.

“Insider threats are a significant danger to our national security and we will continue to work relentlessly with our law enforcement and intelligence partners to identify, pursue and prosecute such individuals,” said acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord.

The indictment provided few details of the stolen documents. It listed 20 documents from the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the U.S. Cyber Command and the National Reconnaissance Office. The documents bore labels of “secret,” “top secret” and “SCI,” which stands for sensitive compartmented information, for highly valuable secrets.

One 2014 NSA document outlined “foreign cyber intrusion techniques,” while another NSA report contained information on a foreign target, the indictment said, and a third document concerned “extremely sensitive U.S. planning and operations regarding global terrorists.” An NRO document from 2007 contained data on the launch of an intelligence collection satellite and details of “an unacknowledged ground station,” it said.

A 2008 CIA document was about “foreign intelligence collection sources and methods, relating to a foreign intelligence collection target.”

In earlier court filings and a hearing, prosecutors and Martin’s public defender portrayed him as a loner, with few friends other than his wife, and vocal opinions about how the top-secret NSA should conduct its work.

Federal agents raided Martin’s suburban home, not far from Fort Meade, the headquarters of the NSA, on Aug. 27, 2016, arriving as he approached his car. They said they found massive quantities of classified documents in his home, in a shed, in his car and even in a portfolio he was clutching at the moment of his arrest.

A federal prosecutor, Zachary A. Myers, said at a hearing Oct. 21 that Martin’s theft of classified material was “on a breathtaking scale,” including 50 terabytes of digital material. One terabyte is equal to the digital storage of 2 million photos.

Martin began taking classified material in 1996, Myers said, and at the time of his arrest maintained the material “haphazardly and openly stored” in his house, his shed and his car.

Investigators zeroed in on Martin exactly two weeks after a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers posted a batch of what it claimed were NSA hacking tools, a major embarrassment to the agency. How the Shadow Brokers obtained the tools is not clear. Martin is not known to have had any relationship with the group.

The dumps by Shadow Brokers were said to be files and tools that belonged to the NSA’s elite hacking unit, Tailored Access Operations, dating to 2013 or earlier. Initially, the Shadow Brokers said they would provide further NSA tools to those who bid using bitcoin, but they later complained bids were too low. The hackers tweet under the handle @shadowbrokerss.

Martin, who served four years in the Navy and another eight years in the Reserves, got his first security clearance from the government in 1988. In 1994, he got a top-secret clearance. He has a master’s degree from George Washington University and finished all coursework for a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

At the time of his arrest, Martin was a contract employee for Booz Allen Hamilton, a major intelligence community contractor.

Prosecutors portrayed Martin as a potential danger to national security, even if he had no intention of spilling secrets or providing them to a foreign government.

In the October hearing, Myers said Martin’s knowledge of classified material made him a “high-value recruitment target for foreign intelligence services or other bad actors who could try to recruit or pay” him.

The judge in the Martin case noted that he maintained nine or 10 firearms at his home, including assault-type rifles, without the knowledge of his wife, Deb Shaw. Court testimony indicated that he suffered binge-drinking episodes.

His life appeared to be mostly about work. Martin traveled out of the United States only once as an adult, in 2004, on a trip to France, court records indicate.

Martin’s public defender, James Wyda, described Martin last October as a patriot who suffered a pathology: hoarding.

“It became a compulsion. It got a grip on Mr. Martin, and, frankly, I think the mental health component of this is the only explanation for possessing, you know, 50 terabytes of information,” Wyda said.

Wyda said Martin began taking material to his home in 1998 with the aim of improving his own work, not in order to betray his country. The compulsion grew out of control, Wyda said, adding that Martin always evinced loyalty to the country.

“What distinguishes Hal Martin from Edward Snowden and Aldrich Ames the most is his love of country,” Wyda said at the Oct. 21 hearing.

Snowden, a former NSA contractor, leaked massive NSA files to the public in 2013 that confirmed aspects of domestic surveillance and U.S. surveillance of foreign leaders. Snowden sought refuge in Russia, where he remains.

Ames, a 31-year veteran CIA analyst, was arrested in 1994 and later convicted of having been a spy for the Russians since 1985.

Tim Johnson: 202-383-6028, @timjohnson4

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