A federal contractor suspected of leaking powerful National Security Agency hacking tools has been arrested and charged with stealing highly classified information from the US Government, according to court records and a law enforcement official familiar with the case.

Harold Martin, 51, of Glen Burnie, Maryland, was charged with theft of government property and unauthorised removal and retention of classified materials, authorities said. He was arrested in August after investigators searched his home in Glen Burnie and found documents and digital information stored on various devices that contained highly classified information, authorities said.

Investigators are probing whether Martin was responsible for an apparent leak that led to a cache of NSA hacking tools appearing online in August, according to an official familiar with the case. Those tools included "exploits" that take advantage of unknown flaws in firewalls, for instance, allowing the government to control a network.

The New York Times, which first reported news of Martin's arrest, said that Martin worked for Booz Allen Hamilton. A company spokeswoman and an NSA representative declined to comment.


The NSA is no stranger to having classified material removed by one of its own. In 2013, contractor Edward Snowden passed a massive trove of documents to journalists, embarrassing the agency and shedding light on massive government surveillance programmes that have faced criticism since they were revealed. Snowden also was charged criminally but has successfully sought asylum in Russia.

It is unclear to what extent Martin's case parallels Snowden's. Prosecutors did not reveal precisely what they recovered, though a criminal complaint alleges that some documents were produced in 2014 and were "critical to a wide variety of national security issues." Martin's motive, if he in fact removed the materials, also is unclear.

If convicted, Martin would face a maximum of 11 years in prison. The US Attorney's Office in Maryland said he appeared in court on August 29 and remains detained. The charges against him were unsealed today. A lawyer for Martin did not immediately return a message seeking comment, and efforts to reach family members were unsuccessful.