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U.S. Calls Alleged Theft By NSA Contractor 'Breathtaking' In Longevity, Scale

Patrick Semansky

The public may soon get its first glimpse at the former National Security Agency contractor who allegedly embarked on a 20-year campaign to take home national security secrets, an effort the Justice Department calls "breathtaking in its longevity and scale."

Harold T. Martin III is expected to appear at a federal courthouse in Baltimore on Friday for a hearing to consider whether he should remain in U.S. custody, as prosecutors announced in a court filing that they plan to file Espionage Act charges against him.

The FBI is investigating whether Martin may have transferred six bankers boxes' worth of paper documents and 50,000 gigabytes of electronic materials to anyone else, according to documents filed Thursday. So far, investigators said they have not found any connection to a foreign power. Martin's public defenders, James Wyda and Deborah Boardman, have said that he presents no flight risk and that "there's no evidence he intended to betray his country."

Martin, a former Navy reservist, has been in federal custody since late August. That's when FBI agents executed search warrants at his suburban Maryland home, uncovering what they describe as "overwhelming" proof he mishandled classified information. Among the materials they found: the personal information of government employees and a top-secret document "regarding specific operational plans against a known enemy of the United States and its allies," according to the court filing.

Prosecutors said Martin, who worked at the Pentagon and the NSA for the contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, had no need to know the specifics of that operation or other material relating to the nation's defense. The FBI said Martin admitted he had taken classified documents and digital files and that he knew it was wrong.

"The defendant's crimes reflect a willingness to routinely betray the trust of the nation and there is no reason to believe that, if released, the defendant will have any greater regard for any trust placed in him by the court," prosecutors Zachary Myers and David Aaron wrote in the court filing.

Prosecutors said if Martin is released he has the sophistication to hide some of the stolen information and that his online history suggests he might have been trying to run operating systems on his machines "that would not leave any forensic evidence of his computer activities."

In July, they said, he watched a video about people who try to cloak their identities on the Internet and, later that month, traveled out of state to purchase a special "police package" Chevrolet Caprice. Moreover, they said the FBI had recovered 10 firearms at Martin's residence, which they said came as a surprise to his wife. She allowed the FBI to take the weapons.

The Justice Department said Martin apparently lacks a U.S. passport. But prosecutors said he "appears to have nothing left to lose" and a strong incentive to flee if he is released before a trial. They said in the court filing that he has "communicated online with others in languages other than English, including in Russian, and in June 2016 downloaded information regarding the Russian language as well as other foreign languages."

But Martin's public defenders said that to keep him locked up awaiting trial would represent a departure from a string of other cases involving government secrets. Martin is not a flight risk, despite "fantastical scenarios" to the contrary.

"Mr. Martin's wife is here in Maryland," they wrote. "His home is here in Maryland. He has served this country honorably as a lieutenant in the United States Navy and he has devoted his entire career to serving his country."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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