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‘Hoarder’ pleads guilty in one of biggest breaches of US secrets

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A former U.S. National Security Agency contractor, portrayed as an eccentric hoarder by his lawyers, pleaded guilty in a Baltimore, Maryland court on Thursday to stealing classified documents in a deal likely to put him in prison for nine years.

Harold Martin, 54, who worked for several private firms and had clearances to access top secret information, was arrested over two years ago for what may have been the biggest breach of classified information in history.

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When Federal Bureau of Investigation agents raided his home south of Baltimore in 2016 they found stacks of documents and electronic storage devices amounting to 50 terabytes of files, including classified ones, prosecutors said.

U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors said in a statement that Martin’s actions risked the disclosure of top secret information to America’s “enemies.” One of their allegations was that Martin talked online with people in Russian and other languages but they never found proof he shared stolen information with anyone.

His lawyers said he was a hoarder who liked to take work home with him.

“His actions were the product of mental illness. Not treason,” lawyers Deborah Boardman and James Wyda said in a statement.

Martin and the government agreed that if the federal court in Baltimore accepted the plea agreement, he would be sentenced to nine years in prison on the charge of willful retention of national defense information, prosecutors said. Sentencing was set for July 17 by U.S. District Judge Richard Bennett.

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Reporting By Mark Hosenball; additional reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Grant McCool


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Google tightens political ads policy in effort to stop abuse

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Google on Wednesday updated how it handles political ads as online platforms remain under pressure to avoid being used to spread misleading information intended to influence voters.

The internet company said its rules already ban any advertiser, including those with political messages, from lying in ads. But it is making its policy more clear and adding examples of how that prohibits content such as doctored or manipulated images or video.

"It's against our policies for any advertiser to make a false claim -- whether it's a claim about the price of a chair or a claim that you can vote by text message, that election day is postponed, or that a candidate has died," Google ads product management vice president Scott Spencer said in an online post.

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Pope Francis begins Asia tour with visit to Buddhist temple

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Pope Francis will visit one of Thailand's famed gilded temples Thursday to meet the supreme Buddhist patriarch, on the first full day of his Asian tour aimed at promoting religious harmony.

The 82-year-old pontiff is on his first visit to Buddhist majority Thailand, where he will spend four days before setting off to Japan.

His packed schedule a day after touching down in Bangkok includes a meeting with the king and the prime minister before leading an evening mass expected to draw tens of thousands of people from across Thailand, where just over 0.5 percent of the population is Catholic.

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Hong Kong campus stalemate persists while US congress passes bill of support for democracy protesters

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Hardline Hong Kong protesters held their ground on Thursday in a university besieged for days by police as the US passed a bill lauding the city's pro-democracy movement, setting up a likely clash between Washington and Beijing.

Beijing did not immediately respond to the passage in Washington of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which voices strong support for the "democratic aspirations of the Hong Kong people."

But China had already threatened retaliation if the bill is signed into law by President Donald Trump, and state-run media warned Thursday the legislation would not prevent Beijing from intervening forcefully to stop the "mess" gripping the financial hub.

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