Leaks Unlimited – With NSA contractor Martin arrested, other leakers may still be at large

Earlier this month we learned the name of a second person who stole top secret documents from the US National Security Agency (NSA). After Edward Snowden admitted doing so publicly in June 2013, the FBI has now arrested the 51-year old Harold T. Martin III at his home in Maryland.

Martin hoarded lots of classified documents, not only from NSA but also from a number of other military and intelligence agencies. The FBI is still comparing them with those from the recent Shadow Brokers leak and a range of other NSA leaks from the past few years, but given what’s known now, it seems likely that at least one other leaker is still at large.

The house of Harold T. Martin III in Glen Burnie, Maryland
(photo: Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press)

The New York Times reported that when the FBI raided Martin’s house on August 27, they found paper documents and many terabytes of highly classified information, even going back the 1990s. At least six documents were from 2014. It was reported that Martin first took the classified documents on paper, later on CDs and more recently on thumb drives.

The reason why Harold Martin brought home and stored such large numbers of top secret documents isn’t yet clarified. One suggestion is that he may have used them forresearch for his dissertation about “new methods for remote analysis of heterogeneous & cloud computing architectures”, which he was working on at the University of Maryland.

Documents from multiple agencies

It should be noted that not everything Martin stole comes from NSA. In the official charges there are no names of the agencies where the documents come from, they are only described as highly classified, including ones that are marked as Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI).

With the documents going back to the 1990s, he may well have started hoarding them from the places where he worked in those days. From 1987 to 2000, Martin served at the US Navy, achieving the rank of lieutenant, but he left active duty in 1992.

As the Washington Post found out, he then took a variety of tech jobs with government contractors, like at Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) somewhere in the 1990s and later, until 2009, at Tenacity Solutions, for which he worked at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI).

In 2009, Harold Martin started to work for Booz Allen Hamilton, for which he was a contractor at NSA from 2012 to 2015, when Booz transferred him to the Pentagon’s Office of Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L), which is responsible for often highly sensitive and classified procurement programs. There he stayed until the moment of his arrest last August.

Officials have meanwhile said that Martin took classified documents not only from NSA, but also from his other workplaces, including ODNI and AT&L.

It’s interesting as well that in the charges against Martin, a whole paragraph is dedicated to the at least six documents from 2014, which are described as being produced “through sensitive government sources, methods, and capabilities”. As signals intelligence is traditionally seen as the most sensitive capability, maybe just these six documents are from NSA.

The building of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)
where Harold Martin worked as a contractor before 2009
(photo: Microsoft, via – click to enlarge)

Shadow Brokers investigation

After the “Shadow Brokers” disclosed a large set of secret NSA hacking tools last August, the FBI began investigating this leak. At the same time there was a lot of speculation: was NSA hacked from the outside? Had an NSA hacker been sloppy? Were the tools leaked by an insider? Maybe the same insider responsible for earlier leaks that hadn’t been attributed to Snowden?

On September 22, it was reported that during the FBI investigation, NSA officials had said that a former agency operative had carelessly left the hacking tool files available on a remote computer, where Russian hackers found them. If that’s correct, then it seems likely that the FBI traced Harold Martin when they were looking for that careless NSA hacker. It has not yet been confirmed that Martin was that person though.

Harold Martin was working at NSA’s hacking division TAO around the time when the tools were considered to be left exposed, somewhere after October 18, 2013, but a former TAO hacker told the Washington Post that Martin “worked in the unit’s front office carrying out support roles such as setting up accounts, not conducting actual operations.”

Even if Martin was the man who left the hacking tools exposed, then we still don’t know who found them and published them under the name Shadow Brokers. It’s not very likely that this was done by Martin himself, as Shadow Brokers published additional messages on August 28, October 1 and October 15, when he was already in custody. The actual publication can therefore be the work of for example Russian, Iranian or North Korean hackers or even independent hacktivists.

Other sources?

Could Harold Martin also be the source of earlier leaks, that were not attributed to Edward Snowden? In theory he could have been that “second source” next to Snowden: none of these other leaked documents (like the TAO catalog, XKEYSCORE code, tasking lists and end reports) are newer than 2015, when Martin left NSA. Contrary to this Martin is described as very patriotic, which doesn’t fit the fact that these particular leaks were clearly meant to harm and embarrass the US and NSA.

Also, Martin hasn’t (yet) been charged with espionage or the attempt to provide classified information to a third party or a foreign government – which doesn’t seem something the US government would leave out or keep secret after the recent and unprecedented statement in which the Office of the Director of National Intelligence accused Russia of hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other political organizations.

Should the FBI investigation confirm that Harold Martin was only responsible for leaking the NSA hacking tools (after which unknown others published them) and that none of his documents were provided to foreign intelligence agencies or showed up in the earlier revelations, then there’s most likely yet another leaker from inside NSA.

The Shadow Brokers leak standing alone and not related to the earlier non-Snowden leaks is of some importance, because only among the stuff published by the Shadow Brokers there are files with a date (October 18, 2013) after the day that Snowden left NSA (May 20, 2013).

This means that when Harold Martin is the initial source of the Shadow Brokers files, we can no longer exclude the possibility that the earlier leaks do come from the Snowden trove. If that would be the case, then someone with access to them went rogue and had them published on his own account. But it should also be noted that both Glenn Greenwald and Bruce Schneier explicitly said that some of these leaked documents did not come from Snowden.

The more likely option is therefore that there’s still another leaker at large, someone with a more evil intent than Harold Martin and Edward Snowden – a conclusion which is not very comforting and which also raises questions about NSA’s internal security…

Some NSA buildings at the Friendship Annex (FANX) complex near Baltimore
(photo:, via – click to enlarge)

NSA’s internal security measures

The NSA’s hacking division TAO, where Harold Martin worked for some time, isapparently not located in the well-known NSA headquarters building at Fort Meade, but in one or more leased office buildings outside, one of them at an office complex calledFriendship Annex (FANX) near Baltimore. TAO also has units at NSA’s four Cryptologic Centers across the US.

Entrance to the highly secured TAO headquarters building is strictly controlled: one has to go through an imposing steel door, protected by armed guards, and entrance is only possible after entering a six-digit code and passing a retinal scanner to ensure that only specially cleared individuals are allowed in.

Such security measures are more aimed at keeping outsiders out, than at insiders in. And when it comes to finding inside moles of hostile foreign intelligence agencies, the NSA is also said to have a rather bad track record. The Manning and Snowden leaks made NSA painfully aware of this and so preventive insider-threat detection programs were put in place.

It’s not clear whether these new systems failed in the case of Harold Martin, or that they simply weren’t yet implemented at the TAO location where he worked – anti-leak software that was designed by Raytheon to “spot attempts by unauthorized people to access or download data” was also not yet installed at the NSA facility in Hawaii when Snowden was working there.

Tracking what employees are doing inside is one thing, checking what they take out is another. But according to The Washington Post, the NSA (like other agencies) does notimpose universal checks of personnel and their belongings as they enter and leave agency buildings. Security guards only conduct random checks and use their discretion in order to keep en build the trust of the employees.

“If you have a bag full of stuff, you’re probably going to get stopped” said a former TAO operator to the Post, but, in general, “Disneyland has more physical security checks than we had”. Additionally, NSA facilities will have detection gates, but it seems that it was easier for Snowden to walk out with his thousands of documents than many would have thought.

As former NSA general counsel Rajesh De explained, it is unlikely “you’re going to be able to stop every incident of somebody taking documents if they’re determined to do so. But the real question is how quickly can you detect it, how quickly can you mitigate the harm of any such incident.”

An old sign inside the NSA headquarters building
showing what kind of items are not allowed in.
(screenshot from a documentary about NSA)


Harold Martin stole a lot of classified documents from multiple military and intelligence agencies where he worked over the past 20 years, with maybe just a small number from NSA. The still ongoing FBI investigation has to make clear whether Martin was responsible for exposing the TAO hacking tools.

If not, then there has to be yet another careless NSA employee, but then it’s also still possible that the hacking tools came from a source responsible for a range of earlier leaks. So far it seems that Martin isn’t the source of those earlier leaks, which means that the so-called “second source” is still at large.

The case of Harold Martin also made clear that security measures at NSA, and other US agencies, were not as strict and tight as outsiders would have expected: even for someone without a strong ideological or financial drive like Martin it was apparently not that difficult to regularly walk out with top secret documents.

Many things have not yet been confirmed or clarified, but at least the Shadow Brokers leak and the subsquent arrest of Harold Martin created more awareness among the American public of the fact that there have been more leaks than just those from Snowden.

In August 2014, Bruce Schneier was probably one of the first who identified a second and a third leaker besides Snowden. Many more similar leaks followed and a full listof them was compiled on this weblog in December 2015 (still being updated). As an excerpt of this listing, a short overview of the most important non-Snowden leaks was published in The New York Times last week.

Shortly after this blog posting was published, The New York Times came with a new report saying that the volume of classified documents Harold Martin had in his possesion is larger than those stolen by Edward Snowden and even than those of the Panama Papers from 2015.
FBI investigators apparently also found that the TAO hacking tools were among Martin’s documents, but because he is not very cooperative, it is still not clear how they came in the hands of the mysterious Shadow Brokers, who subsequently published them. So far there’s no evidence that Martin was hacked or that he sold information.
He seems to have hoarded all these documents in order to get better at his job, as he is described as someone who imagined himself a top spy and an important player in the world of digital espionage.

On Thursday, October 20, government lawyers said they would prosecute Harold Martin under the Espionage Act because of stealing classified information. The FBI found the huge amount of 50 terabytes of data at his home, but it is not yet clear how much of that is classified. Also foundwere “hard-copy documents that were seized from various locations during the search that comprise six full bankers’ boxes worth of documents” with “Many of the documents marked ‘Secret’ and ‘Top Secret,’ also bear special handling caveats. The information stolen by the Defendant also appears to include the personal information of government employees”.

Links and Sources

– John Schindler: It’s Time to Rename NSA the National INsecurity Agency
– The Washington Post: NSA contractor thought to have taken classified material the old-fashioned way
– Daily Beast: Democrats Say WikiLeaks Is a Russian Front, U.S. Intelligence Isn’t So Sure
– Defense One: Data-Theft Arrest Shows that Insider Threat Remains Despite Post-Snowden Security Improvements
– John Schindler: Has the Russian Mole inside NSA finally been arrested?
– New York Times: N.S.A. Suspect Is a Hoarder. But a Leaker? Investigators Aren’t Sure.
– The Cipher Brief: First on The Cipher Brief: Snowden’s Boss Shares Lessons Learned