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US spy agency secretly arrests former contractor for possibly stealing top-secret material

Cooling buildings are seen near the NSA's new spy centre, in 2015, the largest of its kind in computing power for processing data. Photograph: (Getty)

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Oct 06, 2016, 03.00 PM (IST)

The New York Times published an article today saying a former contractor of  the National Security Agency (NSA) was secretly arrested on August 28 for stealing top-secret information.

The investigation is ongoing into whether or not he stole or disclosed highly classified computer code developed by the agency to hack foreign governments, especially adversaries like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. Though some of the allegedly stolen data is outdated.

The situation recalls the high-profile story of Edward Snowden, another former NSA contractor who stole troves of information about American surveillance programs in the US and abroad, and leaked it to journalists at The Guardian.

This contractor associated has been identified as Harold T Martin III. Both Snowden and Martin worked for the same consulting company, Booz Allen Hamilton.

The Times, citing a neighbour who saw it, says that on August 27 two dozen armed FBI agents stormed Martin's home, and emerged with Martin in handcuffs. The FBI has found thousands of pages of material in his house and car, dozens of computers or other electronic devices, some of it highly classified, as well as "many terrabytes of information".

It has been more than a month since the arrest, but authorities have not said whether Martin has disclosed the information to any third-parties, or whether he simply downloaded it and kept it to himself. 

Martin originally denied taking the documents and digitial files, but later told authorities he knew he wasn't authorised to possess them. 

Some of the documents believed to be stolen by Martin were produced in 2014, before Snowden's actions became public knowledge, so whether or not Martin's alleged theft would have been prevented given the reforms put in place since Snowden is hard to know.

One of the officials involved described Martin as a "hoarder", meaning he believed Martin would simply keep the information in his home. This would be  a majorly different category of classified information thief than Snowden, who morally objected to the NSA's surveillance program and set out to make it public.

There have been several instances of people taking classified information home. There are still many important unanswered questions about Martin, including whether this case has any connection to the leak of NSA code in August by a group called "Shadow Brokers", or any leaks of NSA intercepts involving foreign governments published by WikiLeaks.

Perhaps it's fitting that a man was secretly arrested for stealing secrets, and so much about it remains unanswered. 


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