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Government Contractor Gets Nine Years for Data Theft

by Chris Brook on Wednesday July 24, 2019

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The judge is hopeful the sentencing is enough to deter other government employees with security clearances from mishandling secrets.

The government contractor who made headlines several years ago for having stolen 50 terabytes of classified data from the government was sentenced to nine years in federal prison this week. The aim of the sentencing is to hold Harold T. Martin III, who spent 20 years stashing classified government documents, computers, and forms of storage devices in his shed and car, at his Maryland house, accountable for his actiona.

Like most cases involving the government, the wheels of justice have turned slowly; the sentencing has been in the works for some time.

Martin was first arrested back in August 2016 and charged with theft of government property and unauthorized removal or retention of classified information. Martin plead guilty to willful retention of defense information at the end of March. As part of a previous plea deal, prosecutors for the case dropped 19 other counts against Martin named in a 2017 indictment.

Martin, who worked for several private companies as a contractor at several government agencies, acknowledged in his agreement that the data he stole, including hard copy and digital documents, contained intelligence on national defense. He also acknowledged that by removing the data could be damaging to the country's national security - but that didn't stop him from doing so.

While Martin was charged with felony theft of government property and unauthorized removal and retention of classified material, what wasn't known, at least in the early stages, was the breadth of the information Martin had hoarded.

According to the Washington Post, Martin, who had worked for the National Security Agency’s hacking unit, had squirreled away 50 terabytes of data, the equivalent of 500 million pages of material, 75 percent of it believed to be hacking tools from the NSA’s top-secret Tailored Access Operations department.

Days before Martin was apprehended, a mysterious group dubbed the Shadow Brokers leaked a cache of classified NSA hacking tools online. While it was though that Martin could have had a connection to the Shadow Brokers, investigators around the case ultimately asserted Martin was living with an “autism spectrum disorder” and that it wasn't his intent to betray his country.

At the time of the plea deal, Martin's defense team rationalized that his health was to blame.

“Today’s plea is an affirmation of what Mr. Martin and his defense team have maintained from the beginning of this case. His actions were the product of mental illness. Not treason,” the defense said.

That said, the government contractor did betray his employers and the American people, according to U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur, one of four spokespeople, including Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, Assistant Director John Brown of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division and Special Agent in Charge Jennifer C. Boone of the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office, who handed down the sentence on Monday.

“For nearly 20 years, Harold Martin betrayed the trust placed in him by stealing and retaining a vast quantity of highly classified national defense information entrusted to him,” Hur said, “This sentence, which is one of the longest ever imposed in this type of case, should serve as a warning that we will find and prosecute government employees and contractors who flagrantly violate their duty to protect classified materials.”

Tags: Government

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Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Data Insider. He is a technology journalist with a decade of experience writing about information security, hackers, and privacy. Chris has attended many infosec conferences and has interviewed hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site which is a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.