Legal Issues

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
harold martin, nsa



Former NSA Contractor Pleads Guilty To Taking His National Defense Work Home With Him

from the unauthorized-document-removal-service-shuts-down-after-20-years dept

Not sure how leaky our nation is, but it would appear those guarding it from outside attacks seldom gaze inward to see how their internal security is holding up. Harold Martin III, a government contractor, spent 20 years exfiltrating top secret documents before the NSA caught on. Given that some of this happened after the NSA's "oh shit" moment -- Snowden walking away from the NSA and towards journalists with an untold number of documents -- one has to wonder how seriously the NSA takes its own security.

Martin has now pled guilty to one charge of "willful retention of national defense documents." He's still facing twenty charges in total, including the belated addition of an espionage count. Fifty terabytes of documents were lifted by Martin -- not just from the NSA, but from the CIA, US Cyber Command, National Reconnaissance Office, and the Defense Department.

That one count could net Martin 10 years in prison. But he could be facing more time than that, thanks to this being only a plea, rather than a plea deal.

Martin pleaded guilty to one count of willful retention of national defense information, which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and fines up to $250,000.

However, since the guilty plea did not include a deal of any kind and there are other extenuating circumstances—such as the abuse of a position of public trust and another 19 counts charged in the original indictment—the judge will have additional leeway during sentencing.

The other 19 charges are still in play, Martin's plea notwithstanding. The DOJ may try to make an example of Martin as a deterrent for future contractors who can't seem to stop taking their work home with them. Unfortunately, the internal controls on contractor access don't appear to be receiving the same amount of attention. As the White House continues to loosen restrictions on federal agency access to NSA collections and tools, the likelihood of sensitive information that can be accessed or taken by contractors increases. The expanded surveillance apparatus is too big to be handled in-house and will likely never be scaled back to the point where controlled access is anything more than a theory.

This is the end of one contractor's twenty-year run on supposedly ultra-secure systems. Martin cannot possibly be the only contractor whose work has made its way out of the office. The Intelligence Community's oversight has pointed out the half-assed job being done to secure things post-Snowden. Martin is just an embodiment of the IC's ideals: more focused on collecting data than making sure the collected info remains secure.


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  • identicon
    JEDIDIAH, 9 Jan 2018 @ 12:26pm

    Someone didn't get the memo.

    Well, as a practical matter you can't have as many people spying on the spies as you have spies. At some point, the people around you need to pay attention. Unless there are some of the telltale signs of you being a "spy for hire", it's simply not going to be obvious to anyone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2018 @ 12:41pm

      Re: Someone didn't get the memo.

      Fair point. And to take it a bit further, this same point could be made with many private entities as well. There's really nothing stopping a Paypal or Amazon or Facebook or Google or (pick one) engineer from strolling out the door with terabytes of data.

      (Oh, I know about internal controls and audits and all that. I do this for a living. I also know that they can be readily bypassed by anyone equipped with intelligence and patience.)

      I don't have a solution for this. As you point out, there aren't enough watchers to watch the watchers. But we could at least start being far, FAR more restrictive about who has access to what. That won't solve the problem, but it'll at least limit the damage.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ralph_the_bus_driver (profile), 10 Jan 2018 @ 8:11am

        Re: Re: Someone didn't get the memo.

        It was recently revealed that a Google engineer walked out with a ton of information. He went to work for Uber, helping them with their self driving car / trucks. While it is debatable if any of that information was used to help Uber's development, it does seem to have destroyed Uber's defense of copyright infringement by Google.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2018 @ 12:49pm

    When many 1000's

    of people have Top Secret clearance then NOTHING is secret.

    During WWII the U.S. broke both of the main Japanese codes - JN-25 and Purple. Only 7 people were allowed to know this and the president - FDR - wasn't one of them!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    @blamer on twitter, 9 Jan 2018 @ 12:53pm

    The reaction will be swift

    The system will see a motivated individual and try to take away his individuality --instead of his motivation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeffrey Nonken (profile), 9 Jan 2018 @ 2:10pm

    Wait, I missed something. How are those "extenuating" circumstances? Those should exacerbate, not extenuate, I would think?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2018 @ 5:26pm

    The banksters are laughing at him. Poor guy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2018 @ 11:24pm

    Play the Hillary Defense. i was just to stupid to know better. I didnt mean to do anything wrong. But you have to have the justice department and FBI in your pocket for that to work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2018 @ 5:50am

    he was dedicated

    now he's about to be commited

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mike Hall (profile), 10 Jan 2018 @ 12:17pm

    Former NSA Article

    When it comes to national security, I think technology access should be limited even at the highest level. Hillary should not have been able to have a server at her residence or have email on a device that could have easily been stolen, this is sheer carelessness! Even if you believe she was completely innocent of any intentional wrong doing, she was careless!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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