A member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard who has been detained as a result of the release of highly sensitive military records regarding the conflict in Ukraine has been identified as 21-year old Jack Teixeira.
Investigators think that the intelligence-trained guardsman was in charge of the online chat group to which the classified documents were first posted. Reports suggest hundreds of confidential documents may have been leaked, divulging information on a number of topics including the Ukraine War and Russia, Israel, and South Korea.
US attorney general Merrick Garland said the guardsman would face charges under the Espionage Act for unauthorised removal of classified national defence information. The suspect is scheduled to appear in court on Friday (14 April). Here is everything you need to know about him.
The Biden administration has scrambled for days to contain the fallout from the leaked information - which publicised potential vulnerabilities in Ukraine’s air defence capabilities and exposed private assessments by allies on an array of intelligence matters - and assess the diplomatic and national security consequences of the leaked documents since they were first reported last week.
It is thought the leak started on a site called Discord, a social media platform that hosts real-time voice, video and text chats for groups, and describes itself as a place “where you can belong to a school club, a gaming group, or a worldwide art community”.
In one of those forums - which called itself ‘Thug Shaker Central’ and was originally created to talk about a range of topics - members would at times debate the war in Ukraine.
According to one member of the chat, an unidentified poster shared documents that they claimed were classified, first typing them out with the poster’s own thoughts then, as of a few months ago, uploading images of folded papers.
A top Pentagon spokesman told reporters earlier this week that the disclosures present a “very serious risk to national security” and the Justice Department opened an investigation to identify the person responsible. President Joe Biden said earlier this week that he was not aware of anything “contemporaneous” in the documents that could be “of great consequence”.
Who is Jack Teixeira?
Twenty-one-year old Jack Teixeira, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, has been identified as the suspect detained as a result of the release of the highly sensitive military records, after FBI agents converged on his home and took him into custody.
Teixeira only graduated high school in his hometown of North Dighton, Massachusetts, in 2020, and had joined the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, a reserve of the US Air Force, a year earlier.
Teixeira, who was stationed at Otis Air National Guard Base in western Cape Cod, was promoted to Airman 1st Class in July of last year - a relatively junior position. His formal title is Cyber Transport Systems journeyman, based on his service history.
While by day he served in the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, after hours, he played a significant role in Thug Shaker Central, a group of roughly 30 individuals who were also shared racist memes while discussing guns.
According to The New York Post - one of the first publications to identify Teixeira - he was known online to members of the invitation-only chatroom group as “OG”, and set out to impress its other members by posting the classified documents, which appeared to have been physically taken from a secure location and photographed.
Members of the group said that OG would lecture them about world politics and covert government activities. “This guy was a Christian, anti-war, just wanted to inform some of his friends about what’s going on,” said one acquaintance.
But he also had a sinister side, and in a video that the Washington Post was able to obtain, a man identified as OG is shown at a shooting range with a large rifle, making racial and antisemitic remarks on tape.
How did he get hold of classified information?
The emergence of Teixeira as the apparent primary suspect is bound to raise questions about how the highest-profile intelligence leak in years could have been caused by such a young, low-ranking service member.
According to the organisation’s website, the Air Force’s global communications network is run by people assigned to Cyber Transport Systems jobs, and Teixeira’s record does not indicate any international deployment. A defence official who spoke to the Associated Press said Teixeira would have required a higher level of security clearance in that position since he would also have been responsible for safeguarding network security.
The Washington Post said Teixeira had informed other group members that the papers were brought home from a “military base” where he occasionally worked in a secure facility that prohibited mobile phones and other electronic devices.
It’s possible that though Teixeira posted photographs of the classified information online, he himself is not the leaker - he may have been aided by a secondary party.
There are only a few ways the classified information that was leaked could have been accessed, which may provide critical clues as to who is responsible. Typically in classified briefings, as with the slides that were placed on Discord, the information is shared electronically.
That is done either through secure computer terminals where users gain access based on their credentials or through tablets that are distributed for briefings and collected afterward.
If the slides need to be printed out instead, they can only be sent to secured printers that are able to handle classified documents — and that keep a digital record of everyone who has requested a printout. It is those digital clues like the record of printouts that may help investigators hone in on who originally took the documents.
What could be the repercussions?
According to US Attorney General Merrick Garland, Teixeira could be charged with unauthorised removal of classified national defence information.
Air Force Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, referred all questions about the case to the Justice Department, but said: “We have rules in place. Each of us signs a non-disclosure agreement. This is a criminal act, a wilful violation of those.”
But members of the chat group maintain that Teixeira is not a “whistleblower,” but simply a young man who wanted to impress his pals by showing off the documents to them. We’ll know the next steps in the story relatively shortly, with the 21-year-old suspect scheduled to appear in court on Friday (14 April).