WASHINGTON • The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has arrested a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and, according to law enforcement officials, is investigating whether he stole and disclosed highly classified computer code developed by the agency to hack into the networks of foreign governments.
The arrest in August raises the embarrassing prospect that for the second time in three years, the first being the Edward Snowden case, a contractor for the consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton managed to steal highly damaging secret information while working for the NSA.
The contractor was identified as Harold Thomas Martin of Glen Burnie, Maryland, according to a criminal complaint filed in late August and unsealed on Wednesday.
Martin, 51, was arrested during an FBI raid on his home on Aug 27. At the time of his arrest, he was working as a contractor for the Defence Department after leaving the NSA. He was charged with theft of government property and unauthorised removal or retention of classified documents.
According to court documents, the FBI discovered thousands of pages of documents and dozens of computers or other electronic devices at his home and in his car, a large amount of it classified. The digital media contained "many terabytes of information", according to the documents. They also discovered classified documents that had been posted online, including computer code, officials said.
But more than a month later, the authorities cannot say with certainty whether Martin leaked the information, passed it on to a third party or simply downloaded it.
Martin had told the authorities that he knew he was not authorised to have the materials. He told the agents, according to the complaint, that "he knew what he had done was wrong and that he should not have done it because he knew it was unauthorised".
In a brief statement issued on Wednesday, lawyers for Martin said: "We have not seen any evidence. But what we know is that Hal Martin loves his family and his country. There is no evidence that he intended to betray his country."
The information believed to have been stolen by Martin appears to be different in nature from Snowden's theft, which included documents that described the depth and breadth of the NSA's surveillance.
Martin is suspected of taking the highly classified computer code developed by the agency to break into computer systems of adversaries such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, some of it outdated.
Several officials said that at the moment it did not look like a traditional espionage case, but the FBI has not ruled anything out.
If true, the allegations against Martin are a setback for the Obama administration, which has sustained a series of disclosures of classified information.
Martin, a US Navy veteran, has degrees in economics and information systems and has been working for a decade on a PhD in computer science.