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Pentagon papers leak suspect calls out to his father in court as he is charged and jailed without bond

Jack Teixeira charged with unauthorized detention and transmission of national defence information

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Friday 14 April 2023 17:09 BST
Jack Teixeira’s parents silent as they exit courthouse following son’s arraignment

The National Guard airman arrested over the Pentagon documents leaks has appeared in Massachusetts federal court in Boston for his arraignment after he was arrested for allegedly sharing hundreds of classified documents over the course of months.

Jack Teixeira, 21, was detained at his mother’s home in North Dighton, Massachusetts on Thursday.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Thursday that Airman Teixeira was arrested in connection to the “unauthorized removal, retention and transmission of classified national defence information,” which is a reference to the law used to prosecute the mishandling of classified information known as the Espionage Act.

On Friday, he was charged with unauthorized detention and transmission of national defense information and unauthorized removal of classified information and defense materials. The airman didn’t enter a formal plea.

At 10.19am, the Massachusetts US Attorney tweeted: “Jack Teixeira detained pending detention hearing set for Wednesday, April 19”.

Airman Teixeira was taken into the courtroom in handcuffs, according to CNN. Magistrate Judge David Hennessy is overseeing the case.

There were no cameras in the courtroom, according to the BBC. Teixeira spoke silently during the hearing, answering in whispers as the judge informed him of his rights.

The judge said that the airman could face as much as 15 years in prison, 10 years for the first charge, and five for the second, the BBC noted.

He entered the courtroom wearing detention centre clothing, a tan shirt and pants, in addition to a pair of hiking boots. He was shackled but his handcuffs were taken off before he took his seat.

The prosecution was represented by Nadine Pellegrini, the National Security chief at the US Attorney’s Office of Massachusetts.

The courtroom was full, with three people present at the bench reserved for family members. As he entered the room, the airman didn’t look at those sitting there, CNN noted. When the hearing was over, a man could be heard shouting “Love you, Jack”. While the airman didn’t look back, he replied “You too, dad”.

Jack Teixeria’s parents leave the Boston courthouse on Friday (Screenshot / BBC)

He had trained as a cyber transport systems specialist, with part of his job being the running of his unit’s communication networks, according to The New York Times.

The arrest affidavit unsealed on Friday revealed that Airman Teixeira had a top-secret clearance and that he had had access to sensitive compartmentalized information since 2021, which was needed for him to do his job as a cyber defence operations journeyman.

The filing stated that some of the images shared online “appear to depict Government Information that was used to inform senior military and civilian government officials during briefings at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia”.

The FBI interviewed a user of a social media platform where the classified files were shared who said another user “began posting what appeared to be classified information on Social Media Platform 1 in or about December 2022 on a specific server” within the platform.

Airman Teixeira is reported to have been the administrator of the Discord server where the documents were initially shared.

The information was “initially” posted as “paragraphs of text” but “in or around January 2023 ... photographs of documents ... that contained what appeared to be classification markings on official U.S. Government documents,” began to appear, the affidavit states.

The information included troop movements in the war between Russia and Ukraine and the affidavit notes that “the unauthorized disclosure of TOP SECRET information ‘reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security’ of the United States”.

The filing states that a social media user told the FBI that the airman had spoken about using the username behind the posts of the classified documents and that “he had become concerned that he may be discovered making the transcriptions of text in the workplace, so he began taking the documents to his residence and photographing them”.

The FBI used Discord billing information to identify him as the suspect in the case, the affidavit shows.

The legal filing states that the suspect served as an E-3/Airman First Class since May last year at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts after enlisting in September 2019. He received the title of Cyber Defense Operations Journeyman in February of this year.

FBI Special Agent Patrick Lueckenhoff wrote in the affidavit that “as required for this position, TEIXEIRA holds a Top Secret security clearance, which was granted in 2021”.

“Based on my training and experience, I know that to acquire his security clearance, TEIXEIRA would have signed a lifetime binding non-disclosure agreement in which he would have had to acknowledge that the unauthorized disclosure of protected information could result in criminal charges,” he added. “In addition to TEIXEIRA’s Top Secret clearance, he maintained sensitive compartmented access (SCI) to other highly classified programs. He has also had this access since 2021.”

The legal filing states that access logs show that the airman accessed a document in February of this year one day before the information was reposted online.

“According to a second U.S. Government Agency, which can monitor certain searches conducted on its classified networks, on April 6, 2023, TEIXEIRA used his government computer to search classified intelligence reporting for the word ‘leak,’” the special agent wrote.

“The first public reporting regarding the Government Information appeared on or around April 6, 2023,” he added. “Accordingly, there is reason to believe that TEIXEIRA was searching for classified reporting regarding the U.S. Intelligence Community’s assessment of the identity of the individual who transmitted classified national defense information, to include the Government Document.”

The airman sent a final message to his online friends before his arrest saying that his fate was now in the hands of god.

He sounded as if he was in a moving car when he joined a call with other members of his small gaming community with whom he had shared classified information on the platform Discord.

One member of that group, going by the screen name Vahki, told The New York Times that the airman told the group, “Guys, it’s been good, I love you all”.

“I never wanted it to get like this. I prayed to God that this would never happen. And I prayed and prayed and prayed. Only God can decide what happens from now on,” he added.

Airman Teixeira was arrested on Thursday, shortly after he had been identified as being the administrator of the online group known as Thug Shaker Central, where the secret files were initially shared.

The Massachusetts National Guard member got hold of the documents and posted them in the group, according to friends speaking to The Times.

It was from that group that the documents were later shared more widely, affecting the war in Ukraine, US intelligence operations, and its relations with some allies.

Members of the group told The Times that Thug Shaker Central had begun as a space for boys and young men to hang out during the pandemic and discuss guns, share memes, some of which were racist, and play video games focused on war.

The airman, a member of the National Guard’s intelligence unit, was the de facto leader of the group, with members telling the paper that he wanted to teach the younger men and boys about what real war was like.

(Social media/WCVB-TV via ABC/Reuters)

The files were shared as far back as at least October when Airman Teixeria started posting descriptions of classified documents, according to members of the group and law enforcement officials. Hundreds of pages were later uploaded to the group, including maps of the Ukrainian battlefield and evaluations of the Russian war effort.

Members of the group said the airman, who used the name “OG” in the server, was aiming to impress and inform by sharing the information.

“Everyone respected OG,” Vahki told The Times. “He was the man, the myth. And he was the legend. Everyone respected this guy.”

He added that the airman wasn’t a whistleblower with an agenda and that the documents were never intended to be shared more widely than their group.

“This guy was a Christian, antiwar, just wanted to inform some of his friends about what’s going on,” the 17-year-old Vahki told the paper. “We have some people in our group who are in Ukraine. We like fighting games, we like war games.”

The teenager admitted that he had retweeted racist memes.

“There’s no point hiding it,” he told the paper. “I’m not a good person.”

The investigative group Bellingcat was the first to report on the group being the source of the leak, and The Washington Post also reported on the group.

Between October and March, about 350 documents were shared in the group, Vahki said.

A member known as Lucca, 17, later published some of the files in a public Discord group on 2 March.

When the news started to spread of the leak, the airman started to close down his accounts.

“He was very freaked out,” Vahki told The Times. “This isn’t something like an ‘oopsie-daisy, I’m going to be reprimanded.’ This is life-in-prison type stuff.”

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