Updated Oct. 5, 2016 3:40 p.m. ET
The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested and has been holding a contractor for the National Security Agency on charges he stole top-secret documents, following a probe into how secret government hacking tools used against foreign countries became public,according to people familiar with the case.
Authorities unsealed court papers Wednesday charging Harold Thomas Martin, 51 years old, of Glen Burnie, Md., with theft of government property and unauthorized removal of classified materials. Mr. Martin, a former Navy officer, was arrested in late August, the court papers said, but the charges were kept under seal while the FBI continued to investigate.
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Mr. Martin was an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. working at the NSA.
Booz Allen is the same firm that once employed Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor who leaked stolen records about the agency in 2013. The latest case is likely to raise fresh questions about the security of both the agency and one of its principal contractors.
In a statement, Booz Allen said it reached out to authorities after it learned of the arrest, and that it fired Mr. Martin.
Mr. Martin, a former surface warfare officer who left the Navy in 2000, has been in custody and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Mr. Martin’s lawyer, Jim Wyda, said the charges “are mere allegations.…There is no evidence that Hal Martin intended to betray his country. What we do know is that Hal Martin loves his family and his country.” He added that Mr. Martin “has devoted his entire career to protecting America.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama takes the case “quite seriously, and it is a good reminder for all of us with security clearances how important it is for all of us to protect national security information.”
The NSA is one of the government’s most secretive agencies. It is a division of the military that conducts espionage, protects the Pentagon’s computer networks and has some of the world’s most sophisticated computer hacking tools.
In August, the FBI began investigating the apparent leak of some of these tools that appeared to be NSA source code. Such tools are designed to help penetrate the computer networks of foreign nation adversaries like Russia and China.
During a search of Mr. Martin’s residence, agents found paper documents and digital drives that were labeled top secret, including six classified documents that were written in 2014, according to an affidavit filed in conjunction with his arrest.
“During execution of the warrants, Martin was not in custody, and voluntarily agreed to be interviewed by investigators,” the FBI affidavit said. “During the interview, Martin at first denied, and later when confronted with specific documents, admitted he took documents and digital files from his work assignment to his residence and vehicle that he knew were classified.”
The affidavit said many of the materials bore markings that indicated they were U.S. property and contained highly classified information.
The criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday doesn’t indicate whether Mr. Martin is cooperating with investigators, who are trying to determine why and how Mr. Martin allegedly had top-secret documents in his home and in his car. But people close to the case said there have been discussions between the two sides since his arrest.
Officials said Mr. Martin had top-secret clearance but wasn’t authorized or equipped to handle any classified information at his home.
The affidavit also said Mr. Martin made at least a partial confession. “Martin stated that he knew he did not have authorization to retain the materials at his residence or in his vehicle. Martin stated that he knew what he had done was wrong and that he should not have done it because he knew it was unauthorized,” the document said.
Officials wouldn’t immediately say what they believe his motives or intent was for taking the information, and investigators are still trying to answer some of those questions, according to people familiar with the case.
Mr. Martin’s LinkedIn page says has been a contractor and consultant for years, but he started a specialized project in July 2015 as a “technical advisor and investigator on offensive cyber issues.”
His description says he supports the Pentagon and intelligence community as a “cyber engineering advisor.” He also is a graduate student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, studying information systems, a spokeswoman at the school said. She said she couldn’t provide additional details.
U.S. programs that deal with offensive cyberweapons are considered some of the government’s most closely held secrets, of particular interest to foreign spies.
The arrest stems from a probe launched in August, when an entity calling itself Shadow Brokers claimed to have a large cache of files that appeared to be NSA spying tools and said it was looking to sell the information.
The files were believed stolen from an entity known as the Equation Group, which cybersecurity company Kaspersky Labs ZAO first identified last year. The Equation Group is believed to be closely linked to the NSA.
—Robert McMillan contributed to this article.
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N.S.A. Contractor Arrested in Possible New Theft of Secrets
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