A former contractor for the US National Security Agency has been jailed for nine years for stealing and hoarding piles of classified government documents over twenty years. The convicted ex-contractor Harold T Martin will also undergo three years of supervised release, said a statement from Robert K Hurshould, US district attorney for Maryland.
Martin agreed to plead guilty to stealing classified information after pleading not guilty when the 54-year-old was arrested in 2016. He was a contractor to several US government agencies for more than 23 years, privy to high levels of security clearance, according to his plea agreement.
"For nearly 20 years, Harold Martin betrayed the trust placed in him by stealing and retaining a vast quantity of highly classified national defencse information entrusted to him," attorney Hur said in the statement.
"This sentence, which is one of the longest ever imposed in this type of case, should serve as a warning that we will find and prosecute government employees and contractors who flagrantly violate their duty to protect classified materials," he added.
Martin admitted that he began pilfering classified documents from late 1990s through to 31 August, 2016, when he was arrested. The documents were leaked in both hard copy and digital form relating to the national defencse with government markings, ‘containing highly classified information.’
"The reason that insider threats are so difficult to detect is because insiders already know where valuable data is stored and how to access it. Employees and contractors need access to certain systems and applications to do their jobs. Intentional or accidental misuse of these privileges is the price paid for such access," Gurucul CEO Saryu Nayyar told SC Media UK.
Martin retained the stolen documents and other classified information at his residence and in his vehicle, said his plea statement.
"Martin knew that the hard copy and digital documents stolen from his workplace contained classified information that related to the national defense and that he was never authoriszed to retain these documents at his residence or in his vehicle," said the district attorney’s announcement.
Conventional cyber-security tools offer little when it comes to defending against insider threats and cyber-security teams are stretched too thinly to manually monitor every action taken by every employee in their organisations, Nayyar observed.
"However, modern machine learning algorithms can compare current user behaviour to baselined "normal" behaviour. From there, they can identify anomalous trends and spot outliers to remediate threats. The behaviour is the ‘tell’. And, in this incident, the NSA contractor’s behaviour would be suspicious and flagged as risky," he said.