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An analyst at a Defense Department spy satellite agency faces federal hacking charges after allegedly poking around in a top-secret system used in a classified terrorism investigation involving the FBI and the U.S. Army.
Brian Keith Montgomery worked on a covert program for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency — the spy agency in charge of satellite and aerial image collection. On April 9, he was carrying out his duties when he saw a message that “provided significant detail about a classified operation” that was unrelated to his job, according to an affidavit filed by a Pentagon investigator.
The operation is not detailed in the affidavit (.pdf), but there is a reference to the 902nd Military Intelligence Battalion, an Army counterintelligence unit based at Fort Meade in Maryland, with a presence at more than 50 other locations inside and outside the United States. The 902nd faced controversy in 2005, when NBC News published documents showing the the unit had been spying on American anti-war protesters. Under the guise of fighting terrorism, the group had filed intelligence reports on legal demonstrations, including a weekly protest at an Atlanta recruiting station, and a protest at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
According to the government, Montgomery ignored a security warning in the message he saw, and twice logged in to a classified system used in the terrorism investigation: first on April 9, when he stayed on for two hours, and then on April 14. He’d gotten the password from another classified message to which he also had legitimate access.
Curiously, just by accessing the system, Montgomery endangered the terrorism investigation, and “caused harm to the U.S. Army and the FBI,” according to the affidavit by Dexter Wells, an agent with the Defense Criminal Investigative Service.