While the suspect, identified as 51-year-old Harold Thomas Martin, has already been accused of stealing the National Security Agency’s source codes that allow US intelligence to spy on foreign rivals, new revelations suggest that the Booz Allen Hamilton contractor may have hoarded secrets for up to a decade.
During his time with the agency, Martin, a US Navy vet, worked in the Tailored Access Operations unit. This department is responsible for hacking the networks of foreign governments.
His motives remain unclear and investigators have not determined if Martin shared the top-secret information with anyone. While he has been compared to Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who revealed the extent of the United States’ domestic spying apparatus in 2013 – and also worked for Booz Allen – Martin’s actions appear to predate Snowden.
Speaking to Radio Sputnik, former federal cybercrime prosecutor Edward McAndrew also disputes these early comparisons to Snowden.
"People do these things for lots of different reasons," he says. "What’s really at issue here is for what purpose did he remove this data from a secure facility."
Early indications suggest that federal authorities captured Martin before he was able release information.
"The government now has him in custody and under its control," McAndrew says.
"What the government does not necessarily have at this point is total control over the data that he took from the facility. And what they are surely working to determine is whether and to whom and to where he disseminated any of that data."
It’s unclear how a potential leak could affect US national security.
"The United States is engaged in defensive and offensive cyber activities, and any exposure of those activities is valuable information to everyone from our adversaries, to our allies, to privacy advocates, to courts, and anyone else who has an interest in US intelligence activities in the cyber realm."
Still, Martin’s arrest brings up the interesting line between whistleblowing and potentially illegal activity.
"A whistleblower is not allowed to break the law in order to blow the whistle. So that’s where the balance is struck," McAndrew says. "It would be one thing for Mr. Martin to come out to some authority and say 'The government is engaging in acts and I believe that’s illegal.'
"But it’s one thing to do that. It’s another thing to actually steal the data, take it to your home and keep it in your car, and disseminate it, potentially, to others. That violates numerous federal laws and you can’t engage in unlawful activity in the name of exposing the truth."