'Arrested NSA contractor security breach depth'

© Jason Reed
With five million Americans cleared to access classified information, there are all kinds of risks. It’s important though to tell the difference between whistleblowers, leakers, and paid spies – the latter being the most dangerous, experts told RT.

The FBI has arrested National Security Agency contractor Hal Martin who allegedly stole classified computer codes developed to hack into the networks of foreign governments. Martin was arrested in late August.

Court documents show he has been charged with the theft of government property and the unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials. The FBI found documents and digital information most of which contained top secret and sensitive data.

Court filings also claim the stolen documents have the potential to “cause exceptionally grave damage to US national security.”

Former FBI agent Coleen Rowley told RT: “The number of people with top secret clearances or access to classified information has soared. The last I heard it is something like five million Americans have been cleared for classified information. So, any time you get that large of a number, you are going to have all kinds of potential. And it doesn’t matter contractors or government, both of them. The most dangerous thing is the actual spies who are being paid, obviously not Edward Snowden or people like myself – whistleblowers who did these things just to tell the public what illegal acts were going on.”

Former CIA officer Ray McGovern says it’s important to distinguish between hacks and leaks.

RT: Classified data was found at the home of NSA contractor Hal Martin. How severe a security breach is this?

Ray McGovern: It is impossible to say at present because all we know is that the FBI secretly arrested him about six weeks ago. What has been noted actually by Edward Snowden already in his Twitter is that apparently it is not clear yet that he has been charged under the Espionage Act. And that would be significant. Was he a leaker or was he trying to give this information to our enemies? All that is undetermined. All we know is that he worked for the same contractor that Edward Snowden did: Booz Allen Hamilton. And that tells us nothing since Booz Allen Hamilton has many contracts with NSA and other parts of the government.

RT: Mr. Martin is suspected of stealing code used by US intelligence to break into computer systems of governments including Russia. We've recently heard numerous accusations of Russia hacking targets in the US. Is that hypocritical, given what the NSA is doing?

RM: I was reading some of the comments under the reporting about some US officials that said “it must be Russia.” And one of the comments was “Next time I am late for work; I am going to blame it on Russia.” It is a kind of laconic and ironic comment that when in doubt - blame it on Russia. It is far too early in the game here as we know so little about this case to blame anyone for anything. Not even Mr. Martin because the FBI has the habit of entering homes to search them and seize things. And much of that is done in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the US which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures without a court warrant.

RT: The FBI only found out about this insider breach when a group called The Shadow Brokers offered to sell NSA hacking tools and other secret data, in August. Could there be numerous breaches of this kind that the government is simply not aware of?

RM: I assume that that is the case. It is so easy to break into these things. But if people can run their private email systems like Hillary Clinton did and make them available easily to any hacker including taxi drivers in Romania, them one has to assume that a lot of these things is being hacked into. And I must say the NSA is not showing a lot of professionalism about how they go about these things…

One has to be careful to distinguish between leakers. I don’t know if it was the NSA, but when those very sensitive documents out of Hillary Clinton’s emails and out of the emails out of the DNC came to the surface, people were saying that there was a hack. But it wasn’t a hack, it was leak. It was a leak to WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks didn’t touch them, they just put them out. And the whole exercise which was obscured because of the media play “Blame it on the Russians,”“Assange is working for the Russians,” "Russians want Trump to win” obscured the fact that the emails show without much ambiguity that Hillary Clinton and the DNC stole the Democratic nomination from Bernie Sanders. That’s why there is hue and cry to blame someone else. And the phony corporate media have chimed right in. Americans don’t know what was in those emails; all they know is that Russians are fooling around with our election process. I have never seen it quite so bad in terms of propaganda…

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.