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'Second Snowden' arrested over NSA secrets

A National Security Agency contractor has been arrested on charges that he illegally removed highly classified information. His arrest corresponds to the biggest leak of hacking tools since whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The FBI acknowledged Wednesday it had arrested a National Security Agency contractor on charges of stealing highly classified information and is investigating possible links to a recent leak of secret hacking tools used to break into the computers of adversaries.

The Maryland home of 51-year-old Harold Thomas Martin III (pictured) was raided by FBI agents last month after he allegedly admitted to having taken government secrets, authorities said.

"Martin at first denied, and later when confronted with specific documents, admitted he took documents and digital files from his work assignment to his residence and vehicle that he knew were classified," the Department of Justice affidavit alleges. "Martin stated that he knew what he had done was wrong and that he should not have done it because he knew it was unauthorized."

The documents do not detail the classified information that the agency says it seized, but the move does correspond to a cyberleak of purported malicious hacking tools used by the NSA to tamper with firewalls, the electronic defenses protecting computer networks, which was pulled off by a group calling itself the "Shadow Brokers."

The complaint does not reference that group or allege a link to Martin, and a defense attorney said Martin never intended to betray his country. But the disclosures were the most significant leak since the disclosures made by NSA contractor-turned-fugitive Edward Snowden in 2013 .

NSA General Counsel Glenn Gerstell told the Reuters news agency that the NSA was still assessing damage from the data theft, but said: "I don't think this is a Snowden-type situation." Snowden, who has been granted asylum in Russia, said he deliberately exposed the scope of US government surveillance to force changes. The leaks and subsequent arrest are another embarrassment for the US intelligence community.

FBI agents raid suburban home

USA NSA Haus von Harold Thomas Martin III (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J.L. Magana)

Neighbors described hearing police throw a flash grenade into the house of security contractor Harold Thomas Martin III in Glen Burnie, Maryland, during the August 27 raid. Martin has been in federal custody since.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama takes the situation "quite seriously," adding that "it is a good reminder for all of us with security clearances about how important it is for us to protect sensitive national security information."

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told news agencies that Martin worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, the consulting firm that had employed Snowden when he revealed the vast collection of metadata by the NSA in 2013.

Allegations about a second insider leaking top-secret NSA information could further set back the Obama administration's efforts to recover from Snowden's damaging disclosures about  the US government's surveillance and cyberspying activities.

Martin, who has been detained since his August 27 arrest, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charges.

jar/kl (AP, Reuters)

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