A former National Security Agency computer analyst was sentenced to six years in prison Thursday for taking home classified documents and storing them in boxes in his kitchen after he left his job.

The federal sentencing guidelines called for at least nine years behind bars for Kenneth Ford, Jr., 34. But U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte departed from the guidelines because prosecutors never claimed Ford was engaged in espionage.

He cited similar cases in which defendants received light punishments, such as former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, who was given community service and a fine for taking records from the National Archives.

Messitte also noted instances in which defendants who pleaded guilty to passing documents to other countries received sentences far below the punishment Ford faced under the guidelines.

Federal agents arrested Ford in 2004 and found two boxes of computer records in his home. At the time, Ford acknowledged he took the records when he left his job at the super-secret intelligence agency, based at Fort Meade. He later claimed he was framed by an ex-girlfriend.

A jury convicted him in December on the document charge and on a count of making a false statement for not properly revealing the investigation on an application for a job with defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.

No clear motive was ever established in the case and prosecutors did not accuse Ford of trying to sell or distribute the documents.

However, federal prosecutor David Salem said Thursday that the removal of the records from the NSA posed a grave security risk.

"The disclosure of information Mr. Ford had in his kitchen could have jeopardized millions of dollars of worth of programs at the NSA," Salem said.