NSA contractor suspected of espionage is deemed a flight risk

Nation

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: A judge ruled today that a Maryland man accused of stealing massive amounts of information from the National Security Agency was a flight risk and will remain in federal custody.

William Brangham has the story.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: This past August, Harold Martin III was arrested at his home in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. In his house, investigators discovered the equivalent of half-a-billion pages of documents and electronic data, some allegedly taken from the NSA's headquarters at nearby Fort Meade.

Among the documents were ones marked top-secret and also tools used by the NSA to hack into the computer networks of foreign governments.

Joining me now for more on this case is Matt Apuzzo, who's been covering this story for The New York Times.

Matt Apuzzo, welcome.

I wonder if you would just start off by laying out the case against this gentleman, and what is his defense?

MATT APUZZO, The New York Times: Well, I mean, what is fascinating is there is the case that's been brought.

And the case that's been brought, as you said, is, hey, this guy had terabytes, billions of pages of documents in his house, in his shed, in the back seat of his car, in the trunk of his car, and, obviously, you're not supposed to do that. So, there is that case.

But then there is this other case that's kind of looming over all this, and the question is, is he the guy who, not too long ago, facilitated the release of NSA documents, basically for ransom, put them up for sale online? These were hacking tools, the way the government, the United States government, hacks into other countries and businesses and whatnot?

And so that's really what's going on here, is, there's, OK, he mishandled classified information. He has basically admitted that. But is he the guy, is he part of some network that's putting information up for sale?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, this originally came about, as you're indicating, there was this group called the Shadow Brokers who were auctioning off this software.

MATT APUZZO: Right.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And is it correct that investigators who were looking into that release and that case, that's how they discovered Martin?

MATT APUZZO: Yes.

What we're told here is that Martin sort of popped up on their radar screen during the early parts of the investigation into the Shadow Brokers' release, and using some clever forensics and sort of old-fashioned investigative skills, were able to identify Martin.

And then when they raided his house, I think they were stunned to find as much stuff as they found. We're talking about 20 years of classified information. It's basically a catalogue of how the NSA has stored data over the past two decades. He has got stuff in paper. He has got stuff on C.D.s. He has got stuff on thumb drives. He has got stuff.

It just tells a story, and it's a little archive of the NSA.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And what is Martin's defense for all this? What does he say?

MATT APUZZO: Well, we haven't heard a full defense.

Our understanding of what he's told the FBI is he acknowledges that he took the stuff and he wasn't supposed to take it, but there seems to be a little bit of, well, I was taking this stuff home to study it to become better at my job, to become a better patriot, to be a better NSA contractor.

Unlike somebody like Edward Snowden, who had, you know, a privacy, a libertarian bent, what we're hearing about Harold Martin is that he was very rah-rah for the NSA and for the government's programs and believed that he was a patriot.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, has the government indicated at all what they think his motive might be for this? Why would he have these tools in his house?

MATT APUZZO: No, it's a great question.

And more so than why did he have these tools in the house, if he's been doing it 20 years, why would he start now, like — and why would he start with documents? These are questions that are at the heart of the case.

And I think if the government knew that in a really big way, we would have seen it in the court documents. We might have seen it in court. And so what you're hearing now is, I think, a lot of federal investigators scratching their head and saying, we know we have got a big case here and we know there's a lot of smoke, but can we prove it? Can we prove that — can we link him to these leaked documents, can we link him to some other — to a foreign intelligence service?

And so far, that hasn't materialized in a provable way.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: More broadly, can we just talk a little bit about how damaging this might be for the NSA? This is the second instance where an NSA contractor has walked out the door with truckloads of incredibly valuable data.

What is the impact on the NSA from this kind of a thing?

MATT APUZZO: Sure.

I think one of the things, the damage assessment, the risk assessment is going on. And one of the questions they are going to have to face is, if they can't figure out if any of the data has been compromised, do they have to assume that it's all been compromised? And does that mean you have to start shutting down programs or whatnot?

But from a practical standpoint, yes, it really just does boggle the mind that you can, for 20 years, just walk out of the building with papers and thumb drives and C.D.s and whatnot. It certainly does make you wonder how that happens. And you can bet that that's going to be something that they are going to be looking awful hard at.

And after Edward Snowden, too, that we're still having this discussion, it kind of does boggle the mind.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right. It's a case we will obviously keep watching as it goes forward.

Matt Apuzzo of The New York Times, thanks so much.

MATT APUZZO: Thanks for having me.

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