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NSA contractor charged over fresh leak of top secret US documents

world Updated: Oct 06, 2016 20:06 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
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An aerial view of the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters in Ft. Meade, Maryland, US. The FBI found thousands of pages of documents, and dozens of computers and electronic devices from an NSA contractor’s house. (REUTERS)

The US is facing another potentially embarrassing leak of top secret documents and intelligence by a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor after the arrest of Harold Thomas Martin III in August was disclosed in court filings on Wednesday.

At the time of his arrest, Martin, 51, had left the NSA and was working as a contractor with the defence department. He was attached to Booze Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm still reeling from the fallout of the arrest of another employee, Edward Snowden.

Though the exact damage caused by Martin is not yet known, his arrest will be damaging for the Barack Obama administration,which had been hit by a series of disclosures starting with WikiLeaks releasing thousands of documents from the state and defence departments in 2010, and leaks by Snowden in 2013, all by insiders.

According to court documents, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found thousands of pages of documents, and dozens of computers and electronic devices at Martin’s house in Maryland, a state abutting Washington DC that is home to the powerful NSA.

Among information allegedly stolen by Martin was a computer code used by the NSA to hack into the computer networks of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran.

But it was not yet clear what he did with the stolen information and documents — whether he leaked the information, passed them on to a third party, a country or entity, or merely downloaded them and stored them on his devices.

The stolen information and documents were different, according to reports, from those leaked by Snowden, which were about surveillance and eavesdropping programmes with sweeping reach in US and abroad, including on world leaders.

The NSA had spied on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, for instance, Snowden’s leaks had shown, sparking international outrage and forcing Obama to offer personal assurances that leaders of allied countries would be out of bounds.

The US was also snooping on embassies and foreign missions, including those of India, which reacted rather stoically, with officials saying in off-the-record remarks that this was standard practice around the world — implying they do too.

More is likely to come out about Martin’s theft in coming days. In his first interviews with the FBI, he denied taking documents and digital files which he knew to be classified but later admitted to the crimes, according to the complaint.

The FBI complaint said the documents contained information concerning “national defence and foreign relations” of the US and their “unauthorised disclosure” would cause “unexceptionally grave damage to the national security”.