Discord Leaks: Justification to Quash Encrypted Messaging?
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On April 13, the FBI took 21-year-old Air National Guardsman Jake Teixiera into custody for posting top secret military documents on a private Discord chat group. A large amount of classified information has been exposed, and people want answers. Why is this young man getting arrested when other people leak to the press all the time? Who gives a 21-year-old top-secret clearance? Are there some other, less-obvious motives at work here?
First, let’s look at the leaks.
Let’s look first at the leaks themselves. In early March, classified documents started popping up on a public Discord channel. They had originally been posted in a private, invitation-only chat group on Discord with a few dozen members in December 2022 or January 2023. At some point, one of the private group members started posting the classified documents to a public group. And once on the public group, the classified documents rapidly made their way around the internet. (source)
- This series of leaks provided evidence that American intelligence had been spying on allies in Israel and South Korea. (source)
- We had also been collecting intelligence on United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (source)
- There was a discussion of Egypt producing weapons for Russia, despite receiving over $1 billion per year from the Americans. (source) Egyptian and American officials both denied this vehemently.
- Some of the leaked documents included information about a spring offensive in Ukraine. They also indicated that American leaders are not confident in Ukraine’s ability to successfully launch an offensive this spring, due to a lack of trained personnel. (source)
- Nonetheless, despite a grim outlook for a Ukrainian spring offensive, no one is anticipating peace talks between Kyiv and the Kremlin in 2023. (source) The powers that be are prepared for 2023 to consist of a long, slow grind for Ukrainian and Russian troops.
- Leaked information also includes the fact that American Special Forces groups have been in Ukraine for some time. (source) contrary to repeated statements about how no American boots were ever going to be on the ground. (source)
- Information about a spring offensive could, in theory, jeopardize troops on the ground, though the Russians don’t seem to be taking the leaked information particularly seriously. Speculation within the pro-Russian channels seems to be that this is some kind of decoy. (source)
The rest of the leaked information provides a window into how the government actually works. Spying on allies and a fantastic disregard for taxpayer dollars—it sounds bad, but is it really surprising? And lying about American troops being on the ground? It’s less shocking, and more evidence of things many of us had suspected anyway.
What will happen to Jake Teixeira?
Either way, it looks like young Jake Teixeira is headed to jail, probably for at least ten years
If you grew up in a family full of soldiers and government employees, you might think, “Good, he’s a traitor.” But keep in mind information from the government gets leaked to the press all the time. New York Times reporter David Philipps admitted on Twitter that “The NYT worked feverishly to find the identity of the guy leaking TS docs on Discord. Ironically, if the same guy had leaked to the NYT, we’d be working feverishly to conceal it.”
Mr. Philipps removed his tweet after a short time, but independent journalist Glenn Greenwald took a screenshot of it and you can still see it on his Twitter feed here.
Honest, independent journalists are an essential part of what a free country is supposed to represent. In a free nation, the citizens hold the government accountable for their actions; how on earth is that supposed to happen if no one has any idea what the government is actually up to?
And even fifteen years ago, mainstream sources still seemed to see it this way. Back in 2011, the New York Times published information from Julian Assange’s Wikileaks, which contained information at least as volatile as the recently released information.
In this case, however, the Washington Post and New York Times actively helped federal law enforcement track down the leaker. Whistleblower, Inc. immediately distanced itself from Teixeira, saying he doesn’t really count as a whistleblower/
So, why the about-face? A free press relies upon and has to support its sources of information. How did mainstream American press go from champions of free speech to actively hunting down leakers?
Let’s just look at the history of leaking over the past fifteen years.
Did you know that Obama’s administration prosecuted intelligence leaks more aggressively than any other administration in history? As of 2014, his administration had secured 526 months of prison time for various leakers. That compares to a total of 24 months of jail time issued by every other administration since the Revolutionary War. (source) The crackdown on intelligence leaks during his 8 years was completely unprecedented.
What about Trump’s presidency? Were leakers of sensitive information so relentlessly prosecuted?
Not if they published anything that made Trump look bad. General Michael Flynn, who was arguably just doing his job when he contacted the Russian government after he was appointed Trump’s national security advisor, had his conversations with the Russian ambassador recorded and then leaked to the press.
Releasing contents of phone calls between foreign ambassadors and the government is officials is far more damaging than anything released by Teixeira. Just for starters, it shows foreign governments around the world that Americans cannot exercise discretion. In his “System Update #70” on Rumble, Glenn Greenwald did a thorough analysis of why Gen. Flynn’s leaked transcript was so potentially damaging and, under other circumstances, could have led to jail time both for the leaker as well as the journalists publishing that information.
So, was that leaker mercilessly hunted down and prosecuted? Did any journalists look at jail time?
No. Mainstream media positively celebrated it; Brian Stelter’s self-congratulatory platitudes about the “free press” are totally nauseating.
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough referred to the leaker of Flynn’s conversation as “a patriot.”
The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos tweeted, “. . .principled public servants who got the story out are hidden heroes.”
So, is Jake Teixeira being treated as a patriot or a principled public servant? Not quite. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby stated that “This is information that has no business in the public domain. It is not intended for public consumption, and it should not be out there.” But if this leak of information is so catastrophic, why are those same media outlets that helped find Teixeira reporting the material in the leaks? Given the number of articles generated by the Times, the Post, the BBC, and other major outlets, the leaks obviously contained a great deal of newsworthy information. Does anyone else smell hypocrisy here?
Who is Jake Teixeira, and how did he get top-secret clearance?
Maybe more significantly, if this leak of documents was so severe that a young Air National Guardsman is looking at more than a decade of jail time, why are no higher-ups getting prosecuted? Who gives top security clearance to a 21-year-old, anyway?
I spent time dating a 21-year-old National Guardsman when I was young. This is a demographic putting bags of dog poop on porches and lighting them on fire. Do many of them grow up to be mature, responsible adults? Oh, absolutely. But 21-year-olds are barely adults. Right now, mainstream sites like NPR are focusing on Teixeira’s apparent fondness for racist memes. if someone is not mature enough to understand that online jokes follow you for the rest of your life, why would they be mature enough to handle truly sensitive information?
And how does this not come up during the clearance process? Okay, so Teixeira had a bad sense of humor; who cleared him? I have heard absolutely nothing about any higher-ups facing consequences over this, and I guess that shouldn’t be surprising.
How will this affect encrypted messaging? And is that the point?
This may all be beside the point. Let’s talk about the method of release itself. These leaks have been referred to as the “Discord Leaks.” Discord is a messaging app. It doesn’t use end-to-end encryption, just the standard HTTPS encryption that allows people to communicate privately.
Federal law enforcement agencies have had private messaging apps in their crosshairs for some time now, as we discussed a few months ago. The EARN IT Act, which is still in the Senate, would essentially ban end-to-end encryption and make private messages easier for law enforcement to access.
There have been a couple of versions of EARN IT in the works since 2020; they haven’t passed. Too many Americans are still concerned about privacy.
However, is it possible that someone let these leaks percolate through Discord in hopes of giving the government an ironclad reason to force messaging apps to divulge information about private conversations? Because of national security?
What do you think is really going on here?
I don’t know if this is the case; I’m just speculating. But ask yourself what is believable.
Would access to such supposedly sensitive information be given to a young man with an irresponsible online history? Are more senior personnel capable of taking advantage of this situation to advance an agenda they’ve publicly had for some time now?
What do you think about all this? Should Teixeira be harshly prosecuted, or should he be protected as a whistle-blower? Is there another agenda at play here?
Let’s talk about it in the comments section.
About Marie Hawthorne
A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.