Gaming, guns and government secrets: how Jack Teixeira’s leaks landed him in prison

Massachusetts Air National Guardsman took a plea deal and will spend the next 16 years in prison

Monday 04 March 2024 21:55 GMT
Jack Teixeira has pleaded guilty to leaking classified military information on the chat app Discord
Jack Teixeira has pleaded guilty to leaking classified military information on the chat app Discord (Instagram)

A 22-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard will spend the next 16 years in prison after he leaked classified military documents to his friends online, all in an apparent bid to show off.

Jack Teixeira, of North Dighton, Massachusetts, has been in police custody since his arrest last April.

The classified information — which included details of Russia’s ground war in Ukraine, among other national security secrets — constituted “the unauthorized removal, retention and transmission of classified national defense information,” according to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Last summer Teixeira pleaded not guilty to all six charges. Each charge carried a maximum 10 year prison sentence under the Espionage Act.

On 4 March, he changed his plea to guilty and accepted a deal to serve 16 years in prison for leaking the information.

Jack Teixeira

Teixeira comes from a military family and grew up approximately 50 miles south of Boston.

He enlisted in the state Air National Guard in 2019, and obtained a top secret security clearance some time in 2021, according to the Department of Justice. As part of his security clearance he would have understood that leaking any of the information he had access to could result in criminal charges, according to a federal complaint.

Teixeira was stationed at the Otis Air Force Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, since May 2022. He served with the 102nd Intelligence Wing as a “cyber transports systems journeyman” — essentially an IT specialist — at the time of the leaks.

His unit reportedly provided worldwide intelligence for combat support and homeland security functions.

FBI agents arrest Jack Teixeira, an employee of the US Air Force National Guard
FBI agents arrest Jack Teixeira, an employee of the US Air Force National Guard (Reuters)

The Discord leaks

Teixeira was the administrator of a Discord server named “Thug Shaker Central.”

Discord is a chat service similar to Slack that gives users the ability to create their own servers and manage them through the use of voice, video, and text channels. The service is popular among video game players and other hobbyists who want to connect and chat with people who share their interests.

The users on the server were reportedly young men interested in everything relating to the military. The server had approximately two dozen to about 50 members, according to a Washington Post report.

Some users shared racist, antisemitic, and anti-government conspiracy jokes and memes on the server, and a video of Teixeira holding a rifle and making antisemitic comments was reportedly posted to the server and shared with Washington Post reporters by another member.

By Fall 2022, Teixeira had reportedly started sharing the classified documents taken from his workstation with other members of the Discord server in an effort to teach the other members about “actual war,” according to The New York Times.

Members of the server said that while he ostensibly wanted to teach them about real warfare, some users who spoke to reporters, as well as an FBI charging document, suggested he wanted to show off his access to classified information.

Unlike Edward Snowden — who was also an IT professional who leaked secret government documents he accessed through his work — Teixeira’s leak was not intended as a whistleblowing effort. A member of the server told The New York Times that the messages were never supposed to leave the server.

However, leave they did.

Another member of the server made copies of the classified information and shared them elsewhere on Discord, which prompted a report by The New York Times and a subsequent federal investigation.

Artist depiction of Teixeira in court
Artist depiction of Teixeira in court (AP)

Officers failed to stop Teixeira

In December, 15 airmen who worked with Teixeira were also disciplined as a result of the leaks. Some were removed from their commands.

An internal investigation into the leaks found that Teixeira’s colleagues and superiors reportedly caught him accessing and copying classified information, and did not take appropriate action to stop him.

At one point Teixeira was spotted taking notes on intelligence documents and slipping them into his pocket. He was reportedly warned by his supervisors to stop mishandling and accessing classified information outside of the scope of his work. However, the note was not confiscated and security officials were not alerted to his actions.

He continued to collect and leak the information.

An Air Force inspector general determined that his superiors “intentionally failed to report the full details” of Teixeira’s actions due to fears that security officials might over-react, according to CBS News.

His supervisors did alert security officials of his actions in January 2023, but even during that meeting they reportedly did not report the full scope of what Teixeira had been doing.

The leaks have reportedly prompted the Pentagon to revisit who is permitted to view classified information.

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