The real identities of American spies operating under cover abroad have been found in the mountain of information allegedly pilfered by a former NSA contractor, a security breach that could endanger their lives, U.S. officials said today.
Interested in NSA?Add NSA as an interest to stay up to date on the latest NSA news, video, and analysis from ABC News.
In a new court filing, prosecutors said the enormous amount of information stolen by Harold Martin -- equivalent of an estimated 500 million pages -- "includes numerous names of intelligence officers of the United States."
"These officers operate under cover outside the U.S., and putting the secrecy of their identities at risk by removing information about those identities from appropriate, secure storage not only endangers the lives and safety of those officers and the individuals with whom they work, but also risks exposure of American intelligence operations," prosecutors wrote in the filing. "Additionally, numerous intelligence sources and methods for highly sensitive intelligence operations would be rendered nearly useless should they fall into the wrong hands."
Prosecutors were arguing against Martin's defense team, which wanted a Maryland judge to reconsider a recent ruling that Martin be held in custody until trial. A judge ruled last week that the former longtime contractor was a flight risk, should he be freed on bail.
Martin, a Navy veteran, was arrested in late August after FBI agents discovered a treasure trove of government documents and data, in stacks of paper and on removable data storage devices, strewn around his house, car and in an outdoor shed, according to court documents. It was a theft, prosecutors said, "that is breathtaking in its longevity and scale." Martin had worked in various contracting jobs for the U.S. government since the mid-1990s. The material he allegedly stole included some documents marked Secret, Top Secret and in some cases Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI), the highest classification level. The CIA, the most prominent of American intelligence organizations whose officers work under cover abroad, declined to comment on whether the agency has taken any additional precautions in the wake of the recent revelations.
Martin has been charged with counts related to the theft of government property and the removal of classified material, but prosecutors said in a previous court filing they expect additional charges under the Espionage Act could be forthcoming.
Martin's defense has painted him as a patriot, who deeply loves his country, but who suffers from mental issues that have led him to be a hoarder. Online postings and public academic work apparently by Martin indicate he was deeply involved in the technical world of computer security, and Martin allegedly told investigators he was taking his work home with him only to improve his own knowledge and skills.
But prosecutors apparently see something more sinister and have noted in court filings that Martin communicated with people online in languages other than English, including Russian, and that it appeared Martin was learning Russian in the weeks before his arrest. They also point to several firearms that Martin purportedly purchased and hid from his wife, including one he allegedly stashed in his car.
"If the Defendant stole this classified material for his own edification, as he has claimed, there would be no reason to keep some of it in his car, and arm himself as though he were trafficking in dangerous contraband," prosecutors argued last week.
The filing also comes as Booz Allen Hamilton, the defense contractor for whom Martin worked, announced today it had requested an external security review of its practices, to be led by former FBI director Robert Mueller. Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who stole another huge cache of data in 2013 -- though far less than Martin is alleged to have taken -- was also a Booz Allen employee.