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There’s likely a lot we don’t know about the case of Jack Teixeira, who was charged last week with leaking classified documents. What we do have are a lot of questions about how a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts National Guard had access to such secret documents.
We don’t mean to minimize Teixeira’s alleged behavior, but the case certainly casts doubts on the Pentagon’s handling of classified information. Many, including us, are asking how a low-ranking National Guard member had access to such sensitive information, such as assessments of the readiness of Ukraine defenses and efforts by U.S. intelligence to infiltrate the Russian military. A second question is why it took the Defense Department so long to learn about – and stop – these leaks. Some of the documents were apparently posted online for months.
Sen. Susan Collins put these questions to the Secretary of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense on Tuesday.
She asked specifically how Teixeira had access to documents that “had absolutely nothing to do with his job.” She also pressed Kendall about the fact that this went on for so long without Teixeira being caught. “And when he was caught, it was because of investigative journalism, not the controls within the Air Force. That is equally disturbing,” Collins said.
Kendall said repeatedly that the Defense Department was reviewing the case and its procedures for handling classified information.
“We have, obviously, we have to tighten up our processes and our practices to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Kendall told Collins.
No offense, but that seems like a big understatement.
Sen. Angus King serves on the Senate Armed Services where he said he plans to raise the issue during a briefing on Wednesday.
“This leak is dangerous to American lives and those of our allies worldwide,” he said in a statement to the Bangor Daily News editorial board on Tuesday. “There needs to be a thorough review of who is allowed access to classified materials, and plan on making full use of my position on the Armed Services Committee to ask tough questions of the Department of Defense.” King also serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, along with Collins.
“I hope we can take necessary lessons from this breach to create a smarter, safer approach for handling our nation’s most sensitive information,” King added. We hope so too. We understand that some information needs to be classified in the interest of national and international security. In those cases, proper systems need to be in place to actually protect it.
Teixeira, who enlisted in September of 2019, was an airman first class working as a cyber defense operations journeyman with the 102nd Military Intelligence Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, according to court papers. He had top secret security clearance and access to sensitive information.
Teixeira is accused of posting top secret information on Discord, an online platform that is popular with gamers. Beginning in 2022, he posted transcriptions of documents and then he took documents home, photographed them and posted the photographs online, the court documents say.
The documents were initially shared with a small group dubbed Thug Shaker Central, named after a racist and pornographic meme. The group bonded over guns, military gear and religion, one member told the Washington Post.
It was only after some of the documents were shared with other groups on Discord and then circulated more broadly online, in March and April, that the FBI and Pentagon appeared to take notice. Many of the documents related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including an assessment of weaknesses in Ukraine defenses and information about U.S. intelligence penetration of Russia’s military leadership.
Teixeira was not a whistleblower, members of his online group have said. Nor did he intend to share the information with U.S. adversaries for money or other favors. Instead, it seems like he took and posted the information to impress, and perhaps inform, the members of the group.
He is not, as conservative commentator Tucker Carlson and U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene have suggested, a hero. He is not being persecuted because he is a white male Christian who is anti-war, as Greene, a Republican from Georgia, claimed. He has been charged with violating the Espionage Act for his alleged taking and sharing of classified information.
“There is no justification for this,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said of the leak on ABC News’ “This Week.” “And for any member of Congress to suggest it’s OK to leak classified information because you agree with the cause is terribly irresponsible and puts America in serious danger.”
The leak has made members of the U.S. military less safe and intelligence sources could lose their lives because of it, added Graham, who was a lawyer in the Air Force and South Carolina Air National Guard.
That’s why finding out how it happened and how military officials were unaware of it for so long is vital.