Officials at the National Security Agency (or NSA)—one of the nation’s intelligence agencies—were skeptical when they received an anonymous tip in January 2004 that a former employee—Kenneth Wayne Ford—had a box full of its secrets that he was trying to sell to foreign agents.
Then the person providing the tip read these officials the contents of actual classified documents. The NSA immediately called us.
To make matters more urgent, the person said Ford planned to take the documents—some extremely sensitive and related to national defense—to Dulles International Airport in Virginia the next day. Agents from our Calverton, Maryland, office quickly placed the former NSA computer scientist and his home under surveillance.
They had to act fast. “We set some land-speed records obtaining the legal authority from the judge to search Mr. Ford’s residence,“ said FBI Agent Dave Evans, who supervised the investigation.
As it turned out, our tipster was wrong on one count: Ford wasn’t planning on making any trips out of the country and didn’t even make the drive to the airport. But we were still ready with a legal court order authorizing the search at his home in Waldorf, Maryland, where the documents were reportedly stored.
When the agents arrived at his home the next day—January 12—they had no problem finding the stolen materials. “We entered the house and there were piles of stuff everywhere,” Evans said. “Most of the very sensitive documents were in two boxes in the kitchen.”
Ford was arrested and charged with one count of unauthorized possession of national defense information. He was later charged with making a false statement when he applied for a job requiring a top secret clearance and said he’d never been arrested.
Excuses, excuses. Ford later admitted to agents that he had taken the documents on the last day of work at NSA, claiming the materials would help him with his new job. Evans didn’t buy it. “He didn’t know enough about the job to which he was headed to know what documents would be relevant to that job.” Our agents ultimately determined that Ford probably wasn’t trying to pass materials to a foreign country, as the tip indicated. But they also concluded he had no intention of stopping his reckless handling of the material…and there’s no telling whose hands it might have ultimately ended up in.
Let the trial begin. Counterintelligence trials are rarely easy, and Ford’s was no exception. Lawyers from NSA were on hand to prevent unnecessary disclosures of classified information. Witnesses from the NSA, the FBI, and the CIA testified.
On December 15, 2005, the jury found Ford guilty on both charges. On Thursday, March 30, he was sentenced to six years in prison.
“It was a simple case, really,” Evans said. “We had a tip. We obtained a search warrant. We checked it out. And fortunately, we stopped him before he could do any damage. We are confident that all of the classified material in Mr. Ford’s possession was accounted for and recovered.”
Resources: Press release
(pdf) | FBI Counterintelligence webpage