Baltimore, United States
VIJAY SHAH via MIKE HELLGREN and CBS
A former contractor of the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) who stood accused of stealing documents from his workplace in what some have billed the biggest theft of American government documents in history has changed his plea to guilty, CBS Baltimore’s WJS 13 network reported this past Thursday.
Hal Martin, aged 54 from the town of Glen Burnie in Maryland state, was brought before a federal (national) court in the state’s capital, Baltimore, charged with orchestrating the ‘largest U.S. government security breach in history’, CBS reported.
Martin was put on trial for a total of twenty offences, the most serious being ‘willful retention of national defense information’ relating to his acquisition of the haul of documents, which consisted of around 50 terabytes of data believed mostly to relate to the agency’s intelligence work – including secret hacking tools and the undisclosed locations of agents working for the highly secretive agency. Some of this data was designated as classified information. Martin, also known as Harold Martin, was a contractor leased out to the NSA by Booz Allen Hamilton, an American management and information technology consulting firm.
The defendant was arrested in August 2016, after the removal of the documents and related software was detected by national investigators. Law enforcement raided his home allegedly after being notified of suspicious tweets Martin wrote pertaining to the theft. He was then indicted in February 2017. There was enough data found at his residence that investigators estimated that if all the data was converted to digital photos, they would have an album containing more than six million of them. Martin is said to have the acquired the data over the course of twenty years working with the agency.
In the raid, police found NSA documents strewn around Martin’s living room and home office. More were found carelessly spilled around in the contractor’s vehicle and in an unlocked shed in his back garden.
At the conclusion of the trial, presided over by Judge Richard Bennett, Martin, who had maintained his innocence up until then, was asked by the judge if he was pleading guilty. According to CBS, the former contractor was said to have sighed and then said “I do”. As part of the plea deal, the nineteen lesser charges against Martin have been dropped.
Martin is expected to be jailed for nine years as part of his plea deal, but should the judge agree, the defendant will have two years and six months he has already served in custody deducted from the sentence, which is expected to commence this July. He is banned from making contact with ‘foreign agents’ and from making any profits or book deals from his crime, CBS said.
Martin’s legal team declined to comment on their client’s change of plea. One lawyer, James Wyda, said that Martin was a patriotic American. Martin himself told the judge at his trial that he was taking medication for depression and ADHD.
The United States Attorney for Maryland promised tough legal consequences for anyone caught stealing or leaking information from government sources.
“Harold Martin was entrusted with highly classified national defense information. Today, Martin admitted that he betrayed that trust and for more than 20 years he stole and retained a vast quantity of highly classified government information,” stated U.S. Attorney Robert Hur. “We will prosecute government employees and contractors who flagrantly violate their duty to protect classified materials.”
It is not the first time the NSA has found its top secret data stolen and released into the wider world. In 2013, another contractor, Edward Snowden, copied and leaked highly classified information from the agency to the website Wikileaks. The data uncovered the operations of the NSA’s espionage policy and was a substantial embarrassment to the federal government. Wanted by police, Snowden eventually sought asylum in Russia. Martin’s haul of NSA documentation was reported as being 300 times the size of what Snowden took.
“Glen Burnie Man Pleads Guilty In Largest Theft Of Government Secrets In History” – Mike Hellgren, WJZ 13 CBS Baltimore/CBS Local/CBS Broadcasting Inc. (28 March 2019) https://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2019/03/28/glen-burnie-man-accused-of-stealing-millions-of-nsa-documents-changes-plea/?fbclid=IwAR2Z7JYm-ENQ_tSn3He3bYAMo8DqclE2Nzj4ZnEH07QbyTMf3PFsAXVbDMc
Mike Hellgren, Twitter, Twitter Inc. https://twitter.com/HellgrenWJZ