Former computer contractor, Harold T Martin, who stole terabytes of data from the US National Security Agency (NSA) has pleaded guilty to taking classified documents. After a long legal fight, he is reported to have pleaded guilty as part of a sentencing deal struck with prosecutors.
Mr. Martin was charged 20 times, his plea deal means some of the charges have been dropped but also lets prosecutors seek a nine-year jail sentence. Mr. Martin has pleaded guilty to one count of “wilfully retaining national defence information”. In return, prosecutors have dropped the other 19 separate charges, including spying, levelled in the early stages of the case.
The New York Times reported that the incredible amount of 50 terabytes of data that Mr. Martin hoarded in his home in Baltimore could be the biggest breach of classified information in history. At least six documents found in his possession were classified as top secret.
The United States Justice Department stated, at the time of his arrest, that their “unauthorised disclosure could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the US”. All the documents were collected during the 20-year period that Mr. Martin worked at the NSA and other US federal agencies.
Lawyers for Mr. Martin said there was no evidence that he betrayed the United States. In court, they said the hoarding was a result of “mental illness”, not malice or treason. The data was uncovered in 2016 as investigators were probing the NSA, following a series of damaging leaks by several other people.
Information about the activities and capabilities of the NSA was released by activist and whistleblower Edward Snowden and separately by an anonymous hacking group called the Shadow Brokers. While Edward Snowden had good intentions, and went out to expose scandalous behavior of the agency, the hacking group was more aggressive. The hacking group had been selling “hacking tools” used by the NSA for years, before releasing them all for free on the internet. The situation quickly turned into a national security scandal.
A sentencing hearing to determine the jail term that Mr. Martin will serve has been scheduled for July of this year. The two-and-a-half years he will have spent in jail during the case will be deducted from any sentence he serves.