Trove of Stolen Data Is Said to Include Top-Secret U.S. Hacking Tools
By SCOTT SHANE, MATT APUZZO and JO BECKER
Oct 19 2016
WASHINGTON — Investigators pursuing what they believe to be the largest case of mishandling classified documents in United States history have found that the huge trove of stolen documents in the possession of a National Security Agency contractor included top-secret N.S.A. hacking tools that two months ago were offered for sale on the internet.
They have been hunting for electronic clues that could link those cybertools — computer code posted online for auction by an anonymous group calling itself the Shadow Brokers — to the home computers of the contractor, Harold T. Martin III, who was arrested in late August on charges of theft of government property and mishandling of classified information.
But so far, the investigators have been frustrated in their attempt to prove that Mr. Martin deliberately leaked or sold the hacking tools to the Shadow Brokers or, alternatively, that someone hacked into his computer or otherwise took them without his knowledge. While they have found some forensic clues that he might be the source, the evidence is not conclusive, according to a dozen officials who have been involved in or have been briefed on the investigation.
All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
Mr. Martin, an enigmatic loner who according to acquaintances frequently expressed his excitement about his role in the growing realm of cyberwarfare, has insisted that he got in the habit of taking material home so he could improve his skills and be better at his job, according to these officials. He has explained how he took the classified material but denied having knowingly passed it to anyone else.
“As a contractor, he gets to see a slice of the overall picture,” said one person familiar with the exchanges, summarizing Mr. Martin’s explanation. “He wanted to see the overall picture so that he could be more effective.”
The material the F.B.I. found in his possession added up to “many terabytes” of information, according to court papers, which would make it by far the largest unauthorized leak of classified material from the classified sector. That volume dwarfs the hundreds of thousands of N.S.A. documents taken by Edward J. Snowden in 2013 and exceeds even the more voluminous Panama Papers, leaked records of offshore companies obtained by a German newspaper in 2015, which totaled 2.6 terabytes. One terabyte of data is equal to the contents of about one million books.
F.B.I. agents on the case, advised by N.S.A. technical experts, do not believe Mr. Martin is fully cooperating, the officials say. He has spoken mainly through his lawyers, James Wyda and Deborah Boardman of the federal public defender’s office in Baltimore. They declined to comment before a detention hearing set for Friday in federal court.
In interviews, officials described how the Martin case has deeply shaken the secret world of intelligence, from the N.S.A.’s sprawling campus at Fort Meade, Md., to the White House. They expressed astonishment that Mr. Martin managed to take home such a vast collection of classified material over at least 16 years, undetected by security officers at his workplaces, including the N.S.A., the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Pentagon offices. And they are deeply concerned that some of the mountain of material may, by whatever route, have reached hackers or hostile intelligence services.
Investigators discovered the hacking tools, consisting of computer code and instructions on how to use it, in the thousands of pages and dozens of computers and data storage devices that the F.B.I. seized during an Aug. 27 raid on Mr. Martin’s modest house in suburban Glen Burnie, Md. More secret material was found in a shed in his yard and in his car, officials said.
The search came after the Shadow Brokers leak set off a panicked hunt at the N.S.A. Mr. Martin attracted the F.B.I.’s attention by posting something on the internet that was brought to the attention of the N.S.A. Whatever it was — officials are not saying exactly what — it finally set off an alarm.