The recent arrest of a Booz Allen Hamilton employee on charges of stealing top-secret hacking codes from the National Security Agency has cast more light on the vast privatization of US intelligence and the cozy relations between contractors and their government overseers.
As reported last week, Harold Thomas Martin III, a 51-year-old computing expert working for Booz Allen, was arrested on August 27 by the FBI after investigators searched his home in Glen Burnie, Maryland, and discovered a cache of classified material he had stolen. Martin was arrested three years after another Booz Allen contractor, Edward Snowden, leaked thousands of NSA documents revealing details of the agency’s massive global surveillance system.
“Booz has dropped the ball again,” a former Pentagon official who works on security issues and was briefed on the case, told me. “It’s long past time someone brought attention to this company. This is corporate malfeasance and a direct threat to national security.”
He said Martin’s offense—if proven—could be far more serious than Snowden’s, who was acting out of principle and sparked a public debate about government surveillance and the powers of the NSA. In contrast to Snowden, “this guy did not want to do the right thing,” the official said, taking offense at analysts who are calling Martin a “second Snowden.”
Strangely, news of the August arrest didn’t come to light until October 5, when The New York Times broke the story and released the Justice Department’s criminal complaint about the contractor. One reason for the delay, I was told, may have been the government’s desire to focus public attention on a new federal agency responsible for government-wide security, the National Background Investigations Bureau.
“I think the government sat on this news to justify the NBIB,” said a contractor with extensive experience in national security. He added that many high-ranking intelligence officials have been privately critical of the government’s record in unmasking so-called “inside threats,” and may have wanted to show by this arrest that they took the issue seriously.
The NBIB was established inside the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM) on October 1 to conduct background checks and security clearances. It was the Obama administration’s response to the disastrous hack of the OPM in 2014—which wasn’t discovered until last year—that resulted in the theft of personal data of 22 million federal employees and contractors.
Just before NBIB opened its doors, Reuters reported that the bureau had hired a contractor “whose log-in credentials were used” in the hack of the OPM. The contractor, KeyPoint Government Solutions, “is one of four companies hired by the new NBIB to do field interviews for security clearance investigations,” Reuters said.