NSA employee charged with mishandling classified material

A National Security Agency employee has been charged with emailing classified national security information to somebody who wasn’t authorized to receive it, according to a federal indictment unsealed Thursday.

Mark Robert Unkenholz, 60, of Hanover, Maryland, was arrested Thursday but ordered released after his initial court appearance in Baltimore.

Unkenholz held “top secret” security clearance, giving him access to the information, according to a 26-count indictment. He worked for an NSA office responsible for the agency’s engagement with private industry.

The indictment accuses Unkenholz of using his personal email address to send information classified as “secret” and “top secret” to somebody else’s private company email addresses on several occasions between February 2018 and June 2020.

The recipient held “top secret” clearance from April 2016 until approximately June 2019, while employed at a company that isn’t named in the indictment. However, from July 2019 until approximately January 2021, the person worked for a different company and wasn’t authorized to access or receive classified information, the indictment says.

A grand jury indicted Unkenholz on Tuesday on 13 counts of willfully transmitting national defense information and 13 counts of willfully retaining national defense informaton. Each count carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Federal sentencing guidelines typically recommend sentences far below the maximum.

Unkenholz pleaded not guilty to all 26 counts at his initial court appearance. U.S. Magistrate Judge Beth Gesner ordered him released after the hearing, court records show.

Gesner appointed the federal public defender’s office to represent Unkenholz. Federal Public Defender James Wyda declined to comment.

The FBI is investigating.

The case against Unkenholz is the latest prosecution from federal authorities in Maryland, home to some of the most secretive government agencies, alleging mishandling or improper storage of classified materials.

One of the more prominent federal cases involved Harold Martin, a former NSA contractor who was charged in 2016 with storing reams of classified records in his Maryland home, car and shed. The information spanned from the mid-1990s to the present and included personal details of government employees and “top secret” email chains, handwritten notes describing the NSA’s classified computer infrastructure, and descriptions of classified technical operations. He was sentenced in 2019 to nine years in prison.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed from Washington, D.C.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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