A former National Security Agency employee, who wept as a federal jury found him guilty of illegally storing classified papers at his home after he left the nation's largest intelligence agency, was ordered yesterday to spend six years in prison.
The sentence was a victory of sorts for Kenneth W. Ford Jr., 34, who was charged last year in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt with possessing classified material and making a false statement on a job application for a government contractor.
Ford's attorney convinced Judge Peter J. Messitte to deviate from the recommended sentencing guidelines, which called for a prison term of about 11 years.
"From our perspective, the sentence was disappointing," defense attorney Spencer M. Hecht said after the sentencing. "But we understand that the judge had to balance a lot of factors."
After protesting his innocence at the jury's verdict in December, Ford did not address the court at sentencing yesterday. He plans to appeal, Hecht said.
"At worst, Mr. Ford made a mistake," the defense lawyer said. "There was no actual harm that came as a result."
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein defended the prosecution, saying, "Government employees who betray the public trust and endanger national security must be held accountable."
Ford took the material home before his last day of work in December 2003, according to prosecutors. His home was raided in January 2004 after the NSA got a tip about the material, which included manuals about NSA computers and electronic networks. He confessed to the FBI but later claimed the statement was made under duress.
Prosecutors told jurors that Ford might have kept the manuals for use at a future job with a private contractor and implied that his arrest might have stopped him from trying to sell the material for profit.
Given the secretive nature of the intelligence agency, the trial has provided a rare look inside the NSA's Anne Arundel County complex at Fort Meade.
Evidence showed surveillance cameras that didn't record, a lack of security guards and a policy of less-than-routine searches of employees' cars. Ford, a former Secret Service agent who once guarded the White House, was reported by a woman he met on an Internet dating site who turned out to have an extensive criminal record.
The NSA is one of the state's largest employers, with an estimated work force of 15,000 people. The exact number is classified. Analysts focus on eavesdropping, tapping into electronic communications around the world.