Jack Teixeira: how 21-year-old airman became alleged Pentagon leaker

Suspect’s arrest might have ‘exposed’ a larger US national security problem

Jack Teixeira superimposed over the Pentagon
Jack Teixeira might have been ‘showing off to friends’
(Image credit: Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

A 21-year-old US airman is due to appear in court today in connection with the leak of highly classified military documents about the Ukraine war and other national security issues.

The leak is “probably the military’s largest in at least a decade”, said The Washington Post, and has “revealed secrets about everything from gaps in Ukrainian air defenses to the specifics of how the United States spies on its allies and partners”.

But how – and why – did a 21-year-old come to be the alleged culprit?

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‘Showing off to friends’

The FBI arrested Teixeira yesterday, 90 minutes after The New York Times identified him as the administrator of the online group, Thug Shaker Central, where the cache of leaked intelligence documents first appeared.

The photos of documents posted online had included a “trail of clues”, said The Washington Post, with “items in the background that included Gorilla Glue, a Boston Red Sox hat, and hunting magazines”.

Members of the Discord group told The New York Times that Teixeira wasn’t trying to advance Russian or Ukrainian interests through his leaks but that he had a deep distrust of the US government. They added that the leaks were “a little bit of showing off to friends”, Forbes reported.

Some members showed the Washington Post footage of Teixeira “shouting racist and antisemitic slurs before firing a rifle”, said the Post. Racist jokes were also shared in the Discord group. But, said a friend, it was hard to assess Teixeira’s true feelings given “how many layers of irony that server was in”.

An AP source quoted in The Guardian said Teixeira had denounced the US military “since it was run by the elite politicians” and “expressed regret” that he ever joined.

‘Beware the quiet man’

A profile of Teixeira on Steam, a website popular with gamers, included a famous but unattributed quote: “Beware the quiet man. For while others speak, he watched. And while others act, he plans. And when they finally rest… he strikes.”

How did such a character gain access to sensitive files? There are “several possible explanations”, said the New York Post. It quoted a Pentagon spokesman saying that even in his “low position”, Teixeira’s job may have required clearance that would have allowed him access to sensitive material.

According to military records, Teixeira was stationed at the Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, home of the 102nd Intelligence Wing. The New York Post added that it’s “possible” that Teixeira’s work with the wing required him to have access to the “sensitive channels”.

A US official told The Washington Post that Teixeira had access to highly classified military intelligence through a Defense Department computer network, known as the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, which would have allowed him to read and potentially print classified documents.

As the Pentagon faced a deluge of questions, a spokesperson said the military often entrusts young people with classified information. However, observed The Times, if the allegations against him are proved, that faith in Teixeira was “misplaced”.

‘Stunning incompetence’

“The incompetence is stunning,” Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for George W Bush, told Fox News. Senator Tim Scott added that the leak is a “massive, catastrophic occurrence that should never have happened”. Earlier this week, MPs warned that British lives have been put at risk, noted The Times.

However, Forbes said that officials have “downplayed the significance of the leak”, with an aide for Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy describing it as nothing more than “dust in the eyes”. Joe Biden insisted he’s not aware of any information “that is of great consequence”. Nevertheless, the leaks have “still roiled the Pentagon”, added the news site.

The arrest “exposes” a “larger classified documents problem”, wrote Zachary B. Wolf for CNN.

If the “many earlier and ongoing scandals” regarding classified information “aren’t a wakeup call that the US government has a problem, maybe the arrest of Jack Teixeira will do the trick”, he wrote.

Wolf noted that “a very large universe” of people have access to “Top Secret data”, with more than 2.8 million people enjoying security clearance as of October 2017 – more than 1.6 million with access to either Confidential or Secret information and nearly 1.2 million with access to Top Secret information.

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