In August, the FBI. secretly arrested Harold T. Martin III, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor suspected of stealing classified government information. The source codes he is being investigated for stealing were reportedly developed to hack into the networks of foreign governments. At the time of his alleged theft, Martin worked for Booz Allen Hamilton (Edward Snowden’s former employer), a U.S. consultancy firm which aids in the government’s handling of defense and intelligence issues. The company rakes in billions of dollars every year from government contracts; in 2013, Bloomberg called Booz Allen the world’s most profitable spy organization.
And even though the government relies heavily on Booz Allen Hamilton and its workers for intelligence-- a former company executive, James Clapper, currently serves as the Director of National Intelligence, which makes him President Obama’s top intelligence advisor-- this is not the first time the company has suffered a security breach. In 2013, while working at Booz Allen, Edward Snowden perpetrated what has been called the most significant leak in political history, copying and releasing an estimated 1.7 million NSA documents to the public. The recent arrest of Martin has renewed examinations of the firm’s operations and the safety measures that they have in place.
In August, some of the top-secret files that have since been found in Martin’s possession were offered for sale on the internet by an anonymous group. Investigators have found that the trail leads back to his home computer, but are struggling to say definitively whether or not he deliberately sold them to the group that posted them online, or if they hacked his computer and found them without his knowledge. He claims that he amassed his massive collection of files with no plan to pass them along.
Two months after the arrest, authorities are still uncertain if Martin is telling the truth. Authorities have estimated that he stole 50 terabytes (TB) of data, beginning in his first year working for the company in 1996. For reference, IBM’s supercomputer Watson has only 16 TB of RAM. In its first 20 years of observation, the Hubble Space telescope captured only 45 TB of data. The Justice Department has called the theft “breathtaking in its longevity and scale,” and it places Martin just behind Snowden, who stole an estimated 60 TB of NSA information.
Martin was originally charged only with the unauthorized removal of classified materials, but federal prosecutors have since moved to charge him under the Espionage Act. Espionage charges will carry much larger penalties for him.