The nation watched as the dramatic Thursday arrest unfolded last week as authorities finally tracked down the culprit behind the classified Pentagon documents leak.
And no, it wasn’t some foreign spy nor part of a big espionage agency that we’re all familiar with. Instead, it was a 21-year-old US Air Force National Guardsman who worked as an Information Technology Specialist—Cyber Transport System Journeyman. An Airman 1st class based out of Otis Air National Guard Base near Providence, Rhode Island.
During a Thursday press briefing, US Attorney General Merrick Garland named Airman Jack Teixeira, who was assigned to the 102nd intelligence wing of the Massachusetts National Guard. This particular unit specializes in intelligence support across the US armed forces, therefore, maintains a trove of highly classified documents.
After a weeklong investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents ultimately traced the “unauthorized removal, retention, and transmission of classified national defense information” to Teixeira.
The suspect joined the Air National Guard in September 2019, assuming an IT Specialist position.
BREAKING: Massachusetts Air National Guardsman named Jack Teixeira identified as the leaker of sensitive US intelligence documents. pic.twitter.com/BxRSYKgKoi
— Simon Ateba (@simonateba) April 13, 2023
Garland added that Teixeira, now taken into custody, is the alleged leader of the online gaming chat group where the uploaded classified documents first emerged.
The next day, authorities revealed via an affidavit that Teixeira had access to “top secret” security clearance and maintained “sensitive compartmented access (SCI)” since 2021, giving him extensive access to highly classified information at his fingertips.
While it wasn’t explained why the 21-year-old Airman has such high-security clearance, it may have something to do with his IT role.
With Teixeira’s arrest, this case is now considered one of the most damaging disclosures of top American secrets since the chaotic National Security Agency leak by American-Russian Edward Snowden, a former computer intelligence consultant, in 2013.
Don’t Trust the Wrong People
According to the released affidavit, Teixeira began uploading and sharing sensitive documents with a crew of young men around December 2022 via a Discord chat server, which at one point was called Thug Shaker Central.
The messaging platform is popular with gamers but has become an online venue for the young, low-ranking service member and his friends to share their interest in guns, ammo, and libertarian political views.
Moreover, interviewed two anonymous Discord server members told The Washington Post the chat room also discussed dark humor and outrageous commentaries and even shared “a video of Teixeira shouting racist and antisemitic slurs before firing a rifle.” But this would later be defended by a member and a friend of the junior Airman, saying it would be hard to assess Teixeira’s actual sentiments on topics like this as the server itself was riddled with layers and layers of irony.
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One member, in particular, said in the interview that Teixeira started disseminating these confidential materials last year, months after the outbreak of war in Ukraine, intending “to educate people [the server members were mostly teenagers] who he thought were his friends and could be trusted.”
That didn’t turn out well, did it?
If Jack Teixeira wanted to attempt to be the hero that Alexander Vindman was, he could have applied for Whistleblower Protections for Federal Employees like Vindman did.
The problem, however, is that his status as a government whistleblower would need to be approved, which it… pic.twitter.com/B42jFjpyY9
— Ed Krassenstein (@EdKrassen) April 16, 2023
What was supposed to be kept between members of the group eventually got out and spread across the internet like wildfire.
Another interesting thing about this case would be Teixeira himself came from a family with generations of military men. His stepfather also served in Massachusetts Air National Guard, assigned in the same unit as him, while his stepbrother joined the military as well. In addition, the Post reported that his mother worked for years supporting veterans via nonprofit organizations before shifting her focus to her flower business in 2017.
Nonetheless, the deed was done, and the arrest of Teixeira ensued on Thursday afternoon.
The FBI arrested 21-year-old Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira in connection with the leak of highly classified documents including maps, intelligence updates and the assessment of Russia’s war in Ukraine https://t.co/NAw9XjbvDH pic.twitter.com/H8MTA92rke
— Bloomberg (@business) April 13, 2023
He was arrested by FBI agents equipped with body armor and rifles in his family residence in Dighton, Massachusetts. News helicopters swirling above the property captured the dramatic arrest, showing Teixeira at one point holding his hands behind his head, wearing bright red athletic shorts and a T-shirt.
Gerland said Teixeira would face charges under the 1917 Espionage Act, which could mean serving a lengthy prison sentence of up to 15 years and fines of around $10,000 per charge if proven guilty.
Teixeira’s actions have posed a “very serious” national risk and therefore have been considered “a deliberate criminal act,” the attorney general added.
The Pentagon’s Response
The embarrassing leak has consequently prompted the Department of Defense (DoD) to reassess how it manages and safeguards confidential materials, including “examining and updating distribution lists, assessing how and where intelligence products are shared and a variety of other steps,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters in last week’s press briefing.
He continued: “I would say, though, that it is important to understand that we do have stringent guidelines in place for safeguarding classified and sensitive information. This was a deliberate criminal act, a violation of those guidelines.”
The Pentagon declined to further comment on the case as it continues to develop.
“In the meantime, as [Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin has stated, the department is taking the issue of this unauthorized disclosure very seriously,” Ryder added. “We continue to work around the clock along with the interagency and the intelligence community to better understand the scope, scale, and impact of these leaks.”
Watch the announcement of the arrest below.
American intelligence about Ukraine’s declining capacity to defend its sovereign territory from Russian invaders was among the Pentagon documents leaked via the Discord server.
While analysts say it wasn’t particularly damaging to the war efforts, the unauthorized disclosure has apparently confirmed what many have been speculating about for months, and that’s how dire the situation is turning for the Ukrainian forces. After the catastrophic campaign in Bakhmut, the troops now desperately need more weapons and munitions than ever—estimating that it could run out about next month.
The leak appears to be a double-edged sword for some, though, as this could prompt the Western allies to pump and expedite more military aid.
More than anything, one question remains unanswered: Why do servicemembers betray their oath to keep secret materials entrusted to them, secret?
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