Leak suspect appears in court as US spells out its case
BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts Air National Guardsman accused in the leak of highly classified military documents appeared in court Friday as prosecutors unsealed charges and revealed how billing records and interviews with social media comrades helped pinpoint the suspect.
Among the revelations: That the platform Discord provided information that helped lead the FBI to guardsman Jack Teixeira, and that Teixeira used his government computer to search for the word “leak” on the day last week when news media reports revealed that classified documents had been improperly disclosed.
President Joe Biden said the government was working to determine “the validity” of the leaked documents. In the meantime, he said in a White House statement, “I have directed our military and intelligence community to take steps to further secure and limit distribution of sensitive information, and our national security team is closely coordinating with our partners and allies.”
Friday’s new details about the highest-profile intelligence leak in years shed light on how investigators came to zero in on Teixeira, 21, even though a motive for the disclosures remains publicly unexplained. The Justice Department has said its investigation is continuing, and the Pentagon, which earlier in the week called it a serious national security breach, said it would conduct its own review of access to sensitive intelligence to prevent a similar leak in the future.
Teixeira appeared in federal court in Boston to face charges, under the Espionage Act, of unauthorized retention and transmission of classified national defense information. He did not enter a plea, but a federal magistrate judge ordered him jailed until a detention hearing next week.
The court appearance came less than 24 hours after Teixeira was arrested by heavily armed tactical agents on Thursday following a weeklong criminal investigation into the disclosure of the government records, a breach that exposed to the world unvarnished secret assessments on the war in Ukraine, the capabilities and geopolitical interests of other nations and other national security issues.
“This is not just about taking home documents. That is of course itself illegal. But this is about the transmission, both the unlawful retention and the transmission of the documents. Everyone knows here that the documents in the end were transmitted,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday at the Justice Department.
Investigators believe Teixeira was the leader of an online private chat group on Discord, a social media platform popular with people playing online games and where Teixeira is believed to have posted for years about guns, games and his favorite memes.
The eight-page court affidavit details several steps in the FBI investigation, including an interview Monday with a Discord user familiar with Teixeira’s online posts. The document does not identify the person or say how he or she was located. But the source told the FBI that a username linked to Teixeira began posting what appeared to be classified information roughly in December in an online chat that the user said was meant for the discussion of geopolitical affairs and past and current wars.
The person provided the FBI with basic identifying information about Teixeira, including that he called himself “Jack,” claimed to be part of the Air National Guard and appeared to live in Massachusetts, according to the affidavit.
Billing records the FBI subsequently obtained from Discord, which has said it was cooperating with the bureau, helped lead investigators to Teixeira, according to the FBI affidavit.
The person also told the FBI that Teixeira switched from typing out documents in his possession to taking them home and photographing them because he “had become concerned that he may be discovered making the transcriptions of text in the workplace.”
That’s different from what posters have told The Associated Press and other media outlets, saying the user they would call “the O.G.” started posting images of documents because he was annoyed other users weren’t taking him seriously.
Known as Thug Shaker Central, the group drew roughly two dozen enthusiasts who talked about their favorite types of guns and also shared memes and jokes. The group also held a running discussion on wars that included talk of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The affidavit also alleges Teixeira was detected on April 6 – the day The New York Times first published a story about the breach of documents – searching for the word “leak” in a classified system. The FBI says that was reason to believe Teixeira was trying to find information about the investigation into who was responsible for the leaks.
The Justice Department has not alleged a particular motive. Accounts of those in the online private chat group where the documents were disclosed have depicted Teixeira as motivated more by bravado than ideology.
His court appearance Friday was brief. He entered the room in tan jail clothes and sat at the defense table next to his lawyer. At the end, a man who appeared to be a family member in the front row told Teixeira he loved him and the defendant responded “I love you, too.” His lawyer did not return a message seeking comment.
The Biden administration has scrambled to contain the potential diplomatic and military fallout from the leaks since they were first reported, moving to reassure allies and assess the scope of damage.
The classified documents — which have not been individually authenticated in public by U.S. officials — range from briefing slides mapping out Ukrainian military positions to assessments of international support for Ukraine and other sensitive topics, including under what circumstances Russian President Vladimir Putin might use nuclear weapons.
Classified documents have strict guidelines on how they must be handled, secured and destroyed. They are required to be kept in secure facilities, protocols Teixeira would have violated if copies were taken to his house.
It’s still not known how Teixeira, an information technology specialist, allegedly obtained the documents, or what safeguards had been in place. The FBI said that he has held a top secret security clearance since 2021 with access to highly classified programs.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a statement issued after the arrest, said the Pentagon would conduct a review of its “intelligence access, accountability and control procedures” to prevent such a leak from happening again.
At the Justice Department, Garland noted government officials and others who have clearance to review classified documents sign agreements that “acknowledge the importance to national security of not disclosing those documents.”
“We intend to send that message: how important it is to our national security,” he said.
AP writers Tucker and Merchant reported from Washington. AP writers Lindsay Whitehurst and Tara Copp contributed to this report.