Armed FBI officers arrested a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard over the alleged leak of classified military intelligence online.
Authorities raided the Massachusetts home of 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, who worked in cyber security for the Guard and took him into custody without incident on Thursday.
Mr Teixeira is due to appear before a Boston court on Friday.
Hundreds of pages of classified military intelligence have been shared with an online gaming group before becoming public in an embarrassing string of disclosures last week.
“We are aware of the investigation into the alleged role a Massachusetts Air National Guardsman may have played in the recent leak of highly-classified documents,” the National Guard said in a statement.
Following the arrest, the Air Force released the suspect’s service file. It shows that he has been an enlisted airman for the Massachusetts Air National Guard since joining it in September 2019.
The suspect’s official job title is Cyber Transport Systems Journeyman. The Air Force says that the job of Cyber Transport Systems specialists is to ensure that the service’s “vast, global communications network” works properly.
“Whether it’s repairing a network hub at a stateside base or installing fibre-optic cable at a forward installation overseas, these experts keep our communications systems up and running and play an integral role in our continuing success,” the Air Force states on its website.
The suspect had also earned one Air Force Achievement Medal.
Video played on CNN appeared to show the suspect, who was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, being taken into custody by the FBI.
Following the arrest, Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared at the DOJ to confirm that the suspect, Jack Teixeria, worked for the Air National Guard and had been taken into custody “without incident.”
Video here appearing to show Teixeira being taken into custody by the FBI: pic.twitter.com/0yq6hgimnD— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) April 13, 2023
Mr Garland said that the suspect was being investigated for the alleged “unauthorized removal, retention and transmission of classified national defence information” and that he would make his first court appearance at the US District Court for Massachusetts.
The suspect will make his first court appearance in Boston on Friday, according to the US Attorney’s office in Massachusetts. Mr Garland did not take any questions on the case or the arrest.
Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder called the leak of classified information a “deliberate, criminal act.”
“We continue to review a variety of factors as it relates to safeguarding classified materials. This includes examining and updating distribution lists, assessing how and where intelligence products are shared and a variety of other steps. I would say, though, that it is it is important to understand that we do have stringent guidelines in place for safeguarding classified and sensitive information,” General Ryder said.
“And so, again, I think that’s important to understand that we will continue to do everything we can to ensure that the people who have a need to know, when it comes to this kind of information, have access to that. We’re always going to learn from every situation. But again, this is something that will continue to look at,” he added.
And he said that the suspect had been through “proper vetting.”
“We entrust our members with a lot of responsibility at a very early age,” he said. “So you’ve received training, and you will receive an understanding of the rules and requirements that come along with those responsibilities.
“And you’re expected to abide by those rules, regulations and responsibility; it’s called military discipline.”
Earlier, President Joe Biden told reporters in Dublin, Ireland, that the US government was closing in on the leaker.
“There’s a full-blown investigation going on, as you know,” Mr Biden said. “The intelligence community and the Justice Department. And they’re getting close. I don’t have an answer for you.”
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the leaker had shared documents with a group of friends on the popular gaming platform Discord.
A Facebook post last July from the 102nd Intelligence Wing, which is based at Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod, congratulated someone by the name of Jack Teixeira for promotion to airman first class.
A Discord spokesperson told CNN on Sunday that the company is cooperating with law enforcement on the investigation.
The so-called “Pentagon Papers”, widely shared and leaving many in Washington ashen-faced with embarrassment, have yet to be officially authenticated but appear to contain details on deeply sensitive matters pertaining to national security and foreign affairs.
The slides of photographed files that were made public include detailed battlefield maps from Russia’s war in Ukraine and the alarming suggestion that the US believes Kyiv will soon run out of missiles for its air defence systems, in addition to awkward revelations about America’s attitude towards many of its allies around the world, including the UK, South Korea, Egypt, Israel and the UAE.
Precisely how many documents were leaked is not known, with estimates varying from 50 into the hundreds.
It is believed that a member of that community, known only as “Lucca”, began posting several dozen images of the documents to another Discord server affiliated with the YouTuber wow_mao on 28 February.
From here, they were seemingly posted to a Minecraft Earth Map forum on 4 March, before gradually making their way to the messaging platform 4chan and to Russian Telegram channels such as Donbas Devushka, before finally ending up on Twitter by 5 April.
“I can sort of understand how sharing big, private, military secrets could be a funny thing to do among your internet friends. But c’mon, take care of yourself and stay away from doing stuff like this,” wow_mao himself said in a YouTube video on Monday.