Washington: The top US counterintelligence official says secret government data is vulnerable to thieves, such as the National Security Agency insider accused of working undetected for 20 years to steal a large trove of classified material, even as he defends the security controls put in place after the Edward Snowden theft.
“I believe the reforms are working very well. I think we’ve done an amazing job in the intelligence community and across the government in executing our reforms,” said Bill Evanina, the chief counterintelligence and security adviser to the national intelligence director.
“However, I will say that if someone wakes up tomorrow and they make a decision that they’re going to steal data from the government, they will be successful at it.”
Evanina told The Associated Press in a recent interview that no matter how good security controls are, they will never catch every insider or hacker and they must be continually improved because of technological advances.
His remarks were the most extensive comments he’s made since former NSA contractor Harold Thomas Martin III, 51, of Glen Burnie, Maryland, was arrested by the FBI in August.
Federal prosecutors say Martin illegally removed highly classified information, storing it in an unlocked shed and in his car and home. Court documents say investigators seized, conservatively, 50 terabytes of information, or enough to fill roughly 200 laptops.
Evanina said that since the Snowden breach in 2013, enhanced efforts to counter insider threats in the nation’s spy shops have not only uncovered improper activity and situations ripe for possible breaches, but have identified employees who might need help. He would not detail the activity uncovered.
Yet there are indications the government missed red flags in Martin’s personal life. Prosecutors have alleged that he had a binge-drinking habit court records show a 2006 drunken-driving arrest involving someone of the same name and concealed firearms from his wife. Defense lawyers say Martin, who like Snowden had worked as a Booz Allen Hamilton contractor, had mental health issues that contributed to him being a “compulsive hoarder” over two decades.
National security breaches have changed in recent years from unearthing moles working for foreign governments to stopping intelligence workers before they leak or share documents with journalists, Evanina said.
Things changed with Chelsea Manning, a former intelligence analyst in Iraq, who was sentenced to 35 years at the military prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, for leaking more than 700,000 secret military and State Department documents to Wikileaks.