A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted a former National Security Agency contractor accused of spending years piling up massive amounts of classified information at his Maryland home.
The contractor, Hal Martin, was charged under the Espionage Act with 20 counts of willful retention of national defense information. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
“The FBI investigation and this indictment reveal a broken trust from a security clearance holder,” said Gordon Johnson, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office, in a statement.
Martin, 52, is at the center of what many consider the largest leak of classified information in U.S. history.
When the FBI searched Martin’s Maryland house, they found secret documents scattered throughout his home office and car. Federal prosecutors say this was part of a decade-long plot to pilfer government information from the NSA, U.S. Cyber Command and the CIA.
According to the indictment, Martin took NSA reports and briefings that detailed specific cyber intrusion techniques, contained agency targets and outlined counterterrorism operations around the globe. He also stole NSA email discussions about who the agency was spying on.
Prosecutors say Martin also spent years taking documents from U.S. Cyber Command, the military’s digital war unit. Those documents contained information about the command’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as details on who the country’s cyber warriors were going after, according to the indictment.
The CIA was also a target. Martin allegedly stole a 2008 document with information about how the agency collected overseas intelligence.
The indictment was unclear about each document’s level of classification.
The theft may go well beyond what’s in the indictment. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that some U.S. officials said Martin allegedly made off with the code behind more than 75 percent of the hacking tools at the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations, the agency’s elite hacking unit.
“Willfully retaining highly classified national defense information in a vulnerable setting is a violation of the security policy and the law, which weakens our national security and cannot be tolerated,” Johnson said.
The wide-ranging theft has alarmed many, who note it continued despite the government launching a major initiative in 2011 to better suss out “insider threats” following Chelsea Manning’s mass leaking of military and diplomatic secrets.
The NSA implemented even more safeguards following Edward Snowden’s bombshell 2013 release of the NSA’s most sensitive snooping secrets.
Still, Martin wasn’t caught until last fall. According to the indictment, some of the documents Martin lifted date as recently as Aug. 17, just days before his capture.
Martin’s arrest also came on the heels of a mysterious online leak of NSA hacking code.
It’s unknown whether Martin had any role in that leak, which was carried out by a mysterious group called the Shadow Brokers. Officials have been looking for any possible ties.
But the government’s charges do not include any allegations that Martin transmitted the stolen information to anyone.
Martin’s attorneys have argued that their client never intended “to betray his country.” Instead, they say, Martin was driven by an obsessive desire to conduct his own, independent research.
Since his arrest, Martin has been held at a detention facility. In October, a federal judge refused to release the former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor. His attorney declined to comment on the indictment.
Martin’s initial court appearance on the indictment is scheduled for Tuesday morning. U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Garbis, a George H.W. Bush appointee, is assigned to the case.