Edward Snowden 2.0

Following the September release of Snowden, a biographical movie about the ex-Central Intelligence Agency employee turned traitor, information surfaced in the Wall Street Journal and other mainstream publications about yet another former government employee stealing classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA).

In early October, authorities released details to the public about a former NSA contractor who, according to the Justice Department (DOJ), amassed millions of pages of government records over the past two decades, including top-secret information about military operations.

Prosecutors arrested and charged Maryland resident Harold “Hal” Martin III with theft of government property and unauthorized removal or retention of classified documents. A new Department of Justice filing will also likely charge Mr. Martin with violating the Espionage Act, an offense that could result in the death penalty.  

Martin, a former naval officer, most recently worked as a contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., a job that placed him inside some of the government’s most secret programs at the NSA and the Pentagon. According to the DOJ, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched Martin’s home and car back in August, they found “thousands of pages of documents and dozens of computers and other storage devices and media containing, conservatively, fifty terabytes of information.” Fifty terabytes is more than enough space to hold up to 500 million pages of stolen information. Additionally, the FBI found that much of the stolen information was stored in plain sight. For instance, documents, including an e-mail chain marked “top secret,” containing “highly sensitive information,” was found in Martin’s car parked outside his home.

Before a recent federal court hearing, the DOJ released a 12-page document detailing new allegations about the scope of Martin’s theft. The document also states that he had become heavily armed, accumulating ten weapons, and had taken sophisticated steps to cover his tracks.

Meanwhile, his attorney, Jim Wyda, maintains that Mr. Martin is a patriotic American who has served his country. Former associates describe Martin as a harmless hoarder who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

His actions, however, raise questions about his motives and suggest that he was capable of sharing U.S. secrets with the nation’s adversaries and may have put American lives at risk. It is not yet clear whether Martin stole the classified information with, or for, another person or country. Nor have authorities uncovered his plans for the stolen information.

In an effort to get Martin released from custody, his legal team has argued that he “is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, and to the extent either of these factors is a concern, they can be sufficiently addressed with specific release conditions.” However, the DOJ is worried that Martin “presents a high risk of flight, a risk to the nation, and to the physical safety of others.” He worked on highly sensitive programs, including those involving an arsenal of cyber tools the government has amassed to use against other countries as well as cyber weapons that were in development.

This case, like Edward Snowden’s which preceded it, brings much needed attention to the dilapidated state of informational security in our government agencies. If those agencies do not find a way to stop hacking and espionage attacks, our enemies will eventually get their hands on classified information that could threaten the very existence of our nation.