The information the former contractor was accused of stealing over two decades is something this countrys enemies would love to explore, a judge said

A former National Security Agency contractor accused in a massive theft of classified information will remain in custody as prosecutors continue constructing a criminal case against him, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

US magistrate Judge A David Copperthite agreed with prosecutors that Harold T Martin III of Glen Burnie, Maryland, represented a flight risk if released and said there was no doubt that the top secret information he was accused of stealing over two decades is something this countrys enemies would love to explore.

Martins lawyers foreshadowed their upcoming defense, describing him as a compulsive hoarder and telling there was no evidence he ever shared the information with a foreign country or even intended to do so.

Hes not Edward Snowden, told James Wyda, the federal defender representing Martin, referring to the former NSA contractor who three years ago disclosed to Guardian journalists secret information about government surveillance programs.

Wyda told Martin, a former US navy lieutenant, never intended to harm his country and was instead a voracious learner who got carried away over the years as he took home documents in a perhaps misguided effort to be as skilled at his task as he could be. He indicated Martin had mental health problems.

This was not spycraft behavior, Wyda told. This is not how a Russian snoop or something like that would ever conduct himself.

This, he added, was the behavior of a compulsive hoarder.

The justice department presented a vastly different portrait.

Prosecutors have said FBI agents who searched Martins home and car in August found evidence of a breathtaking theft of top secret government information. Examiners observed records dated from 1996 to 2016, confiscated dozens of computers and digital storage devices and, all told, recovered some 50 gigabytes of information or enough to fill approximately 200 laptops. A substantial amount of that information, prosecutors told, was highly categorized.

There is no reason to believe that the defendant would have ever stopped but for the efforts of law enforcement, told Zachary Myers, assistant US attorney.

Hal or Harold Martin, the NSA contractor charged with removing categorized data and documents. Photograph: LinkedIn

Myers told Martins knowledge of secret government programs could attain him a high-value recruitment target from foreign intelligence services. They said he has been communicating online in foreign languages, including Russia.

A complaint unsealed earlier charged Martin with theft of government property and unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials, which together carry a combined maximum of 11 years in prison. But Myers said in court Friday that the justice department has evidence to bring additional charges under the Espionage Act, which would uncover Martin to far more severe penalties if convicted.

Though authorities are still reviewing the records to ascertain the appropriate category level, they say they already have found many that are clearly marked as classified including one top secret email chain that appeared to have been printed off Martins government account. The document contained handwritten notes on the back regarding the NSAs categorized computer infrastructure and descriptions of classified technical operations.

Another categorized document marked as Top Secret/ Sensitive Compartmented Information concerned specific operational schemes against a known adversary of the United States, the justice department alleged.

Martin was apprehended around the same period federal officials recognise an investigation into a cyberleak of purported hacking tools used by the NSA. Those documents were leaked by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers, but there is nothing in court filings and nothing said in court Friday that connects Martin to that group.

Wyda said the government had given no show tying Martin to any foreign power. And he said it was unfair to leave Martin in custody on a speculative concern of what might happen.

This sounds like something I would have heard in a presidential debate, he told. This is beneath us.

Martin, like Snowden, worked as a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton. The company has said it fired him.

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