A National Security Agency contractor – identified as Harold T. Martin III, 51, of Glen Burnie, MD – has been quietly detained in recent weeks by the FBI pending an investigation into what may turn out to be a breach of the NSA’s cyber-warfare arsenal, reports the New York Times.
Martin worked for consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, a company which gained notoriety with the American public only 3 years ago when another one of their consultants by the name Edward Snowden was known to have leaked a cache of documents exposing questionable domestic surveillance practices by the NSA.
The similarities don’t run very deep, however. Mr. Martin allegedly absconded with the source code for software designed to attack the computer systems of foreign governments, and there has been no positive indication that the stolen code has been leaked to any other actors. In fact, very little information has been released about the suspect’s motivations and affiliations in this incident.
Efforts are underway to determine if the breach is at all related to a leak of other hacking tools that occurred in August courtesy of a group identifying itself as the “Shadow Brokers”, or if the theft was perpetrated with any malicious intent at all. According to the agency’s complaint filed in late August, Martin “knew what he had done was wrong and that he should not have done it because he knew it was unauthorized.”
A search of the suspect’s house and car turned up a considerable amount of highly classified information, although the context of his possession of the material is unclear. He is charged with theft of government property and unauthorized retention/removal of classified documents.
It isn’t unusual that so much is being kept under wraps by the FBI and NSA, considering the investigation is still ongoing. The agency has to contend with brittle credibility in the wake of the infamous Snowden leak in 2013. That incident set the NSA back significantly in terms of public trust, not to mention the monetary cost involved in damage control and corrective action. For another significant breach to occur in so short a time frame would be a devastating blow to the NSA as well as Booz Allen, who will both find it difficult to restore the confidence of the American government and people.
Harold Martin doesn’t fit the agency’s profile of an internal threat, and if investigators determine the stolen code was several years old at the time it was stolen, as is currently suspected, it would be reasonable to assume that it has since become obsolete and replaced and the threat posed to the United States is minimal. Still, there is little doubt that millions if not billions of dollars could have gone into the development of those tools, and it is still not clear whether they pose any threat to other state or civilian targets in the wild.
Lawyers for Mr. Martin issued the following statement: “We have not seen any evidence. What we know is that Hal Martin loves his family and his country. There is no evidence that he intended to betray his country.”