GLEN BURNIE, Md. (WJZ) — A former National Security Agency contractor from Glen Burnie pleaded guilty in the largest U.S. government security breach in history.
Hal Martin, 54, appeared in federal court in Baltimore and answered questions from Judge Richard Bennett. When asked if he was pleading guilty, Martin took a long sigh and said, “I do.”
He admitted to one count of “willful retention of national defense information.” The other 19 counts against him will be dropped.
The plea agreement calls for a prison sentence of nine years, although the judge does not have to abide by that. Martin has already served two and a half years and will get credit for that time.
The case began in August 2016, when the FBI raided Martin’s home in Glen Burnie. One witness said there were so many agents, it “looked like the next world war.” Court records show they were tipped off by suspicious posts Martin made to Twitter.
Prosecutors said they found 50 terabytes of information, some of it classified. They described the amount as “breathtaking.” It is roughly the equivalent of more than six million digital photos.
The documents were strewn about Martin’s living room and home office. Some top-secret information was found in his car and in an unlocked shed in his yard.
The information included secret hacking tools developed by the federal government as well as information about undercover agents in high-risk locations.
Martin’s attorneys declined to comment after the guilty plea. His public defender James Wyda previously told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren that his client “loved his country.” He insisted he was no Edward Snowden, another NSA contractor from Maryland who stole secrets, then leaked them to expose concerns over privacy.
Martin stole more than 300 times as much information as Snowden.
Defense attorneys said Martin was a compulsive hoarder, and federal authorities did not allege he sold or otherwise gave away the sensitive information he took.
Martin told the judge he was taking medication for depression and ADHD.
Under terms of Martin’s plea deal, he is not allowed to have contact with any foreign agent without the written consent of the FBI. He’s also not allowed to write a book or otherwise profit off of the incident.
Martin could make a valuable target for foreign adversaries. The judge called the case “intense” but said it shows that “despite challenges, the country is still strong.”
The United States Attorney for Maryland promised tough consequences for anyone caught stealing or leaking information.
“Harold Martin was entrusted with highly classified national defense information. Today, Martin admitted that he betrayed that trust and for more than 20 years he stole and retained a vast quantity of highly classified government information,” stated U.S. Attorney Robert Hur. “We will prosecute government employees and contractors who flagrantly violate their duty to protect classified materials.”