Photo: Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
Former National Security Agency contractor Harold Martin pleaded guilty on Thursday to willfully retaining classified national defense information, including NSA hacking tools.
The big picture: This is the largest known security breach in U.S. intelligence history, per CNN — for 20 years Martin had been stealing classified national defense information while working for 7 private companies and several government agencies. If the court accepts his guilty plea, he faces 9 years in prison. This would be the longest-ever sentence imposed for retaining secrets illegally, according to the U.S. attorney for Maryland, Robert K. Hur.
- The trend: Three other NSA employees or contractors have admitted to stealing agency files since 2013, including Ed Snowden, Reality Winner and Nghia Pho.
Between the lines: Investigators didn’t find proof that Martin had shared stolen secrets with anyone, but they have found evidence indicating potential intent to do so, per the New York Times.
- The hacking group known as Shadow Brokers released a list of tools the NSA used right around the time Martin was arrested in August 2016. But they continued to post after he was in jail, and investigators determined he wasn't behind Shadow Brokers, at least wittingly, per the Times.