Guardsman Arrested in Pentagon Leak Case that Shook the US and Allies

Members of law enforcement assemble on a road in Dighton, Mass.
Members of law enforcement assemble on a road, April 13, 2023, in Dighton, Mass., near where FBI agents converged on the home of a Massachusetts Air National Guard member who has emerged as a main person of interest in the disclosure of highly classified military documents on the Ukraine. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

A Massachusetts National Guardsman was arrested Thursday in the investigation into highly classified military documents that were posted to an online social media platform.

Jack Douglas Teixeira, a member of the Air Force National Guard, was arrested by armed agents as part of the Justice Department probe into the unauthorized removal, retention and transmission of classified national defense information, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a brief press conference immediately after.

Teixeira, an airman 1st class at Otis Air National Guard Base, joined the service in 2019, and his duty title as of Thursday was cyber transport systems journeyman, meaning he worked on global military communications systems, according to the Air Force. He reportedly shared classified documents with a group of teenage acquaintances on Discord, a chat site popular with gamers.

    Read Next: Navy Reservist Who Was at Jan. 6 Riot Gets 3 Years on Gun Charges

    The leak entailed sensitive information on the state of the war in Ukraine and forced the Biden administration into damage control due to embarrassing disclosures about allies such as South Korea and Israel. The Pentagon launched an ongoing review April 7 to determine the scope of the damage, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has gotten daily updates on the progress.

    The Pentagon is also reviewing who should have access to such classified information, though it wasn't immediately clear whether Teixeira had been granted official access as part of his Guard job. At least some of the sensitive documents allegedly leaked, which were intended to brief officials on important national security issues, were distributed across the department and beyond.

    "We continue to work around the clock along with the interagency and the intelligence community to better understand the scope, scale and impact of these leaks," Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the top Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday just before the arrest.

    Ryder declined to comment on Teixeira or the arrest, which was handled by the Justice Department.

    News crews captured images and video of a man being taken into custody in Dighton, Massachusetts, on Thursday afternoon, with several outlets reporting that the suspect was Teixeira.

    "The FBI is continuing to conduct authorized law enforcement activity at the residence," the FBI Boston Field Office said in a statement. "Since late last week, the FBI has aggressively pursued investigative leads, and today's arrest exemplifies our continued commitment to identifying, pursuing and holding accountable those who betray our country's trust and put our national security at risk."

    News broke Thursday from The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporting that Teixeira had been involved with the chat forum where the national defense documents had been posted online, and the two outlets were the first to report the 21-year-old's affiliation with the military.

    A spokesman for the 102nd Intelligence Wing, as well as Col. Sean D. Riley, the wing commander, did not return emails seeking comment on the incident.

    An official Facebook page for the wing named Teixeira and other service members as being promoted to airman first class in July 2022.

    Teixeira oversaw a private online chat group named "Thug Shaker Central" in which more than a dozen young men would discuss guns, memes and video games, according to The New York Times.

    But Teixeira was also releasing photos of classified defense documents for months pertaining to operations in the Ukraine war, as well as U.S. surveillance efforts around the world, The Wall Street Journal and New York Times reported.

    More than 60 documents posted appeared to belong to the Central Intelligence Agency's Operations Center and the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, The Wall Street Journal reported.

    Teixeira's role in supporting IT infrastructure made him one of more than a million people who have access to the nation's most sensitive secrets. According to an April 2020 report, the U.S. granted its highest clearance -- "Top Secret" -- to more than 1.3 million people. Another 2.7 million had access to the lower "Secret" and "Confidential" levels.

    Teixeira's position as an IT professional within his unit also closely mirrors that of the military's most prolific and notable leaker -- Edward Snowden. Snowden famously used his ability to access hundreds of thousands of files and documents as a systems administrator for the National Security Agency to pass to journalist Glenn Greenwald and documentarian Laura Poitras.

    However, while Snowden cast his actions as those of a principled whistleblower looking to expose what he saw as massive government overreach, reporting by The New York Times suggests that Teixeira's disclosures had none of those lofty motives or aspirations.

    Traditionally, individuals who leak or otherwise disclose classified information are charged with violations of the Espionage Act of 1917. Snowden was charged with violating two sections of law shortly after he revealed his identity in 2013. More recently, Reality Winner, a contractor and former airman who was charged with leaking a report on Russian hacking efforts connected with the 2016 election, was also charged with violating the law.

    Snowden was never arrested and tried for his charges and became stuck in Russia on his way to Ecuador. He was granted Russian citizenship in 2022. Winner, however, served more than four years after her conviction.

    Teixeira was taken into custody without incident and will soon have an initial appearance at the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, Garland said.

    Editor's Note: This article has been updated to remove a reference to Wall Street Journal reporting that Teixeira had served at Fort Bragg. The newspaper has since retracted that reporting.

    -- Travis Tritten can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

    -- Thomas Novelly can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

    -- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

    Related: Leak Raises Questions About Access to Classified Documents

    Story Continues