A young national guardsman was charged Friday with orchestrating the most damaging leak of U.S. classified documents in a decade, as the government signaled it intends to make an example of the 21-year-old.
Jack Teixeira was arrested Thursday following a week-long probe into the leak of documents — which unveiled US concern over Ukraine’s ability to fend off the Russian invasion, and showed Washington has spied on allies Israel and South Korea.
It is the biggest such breach since the 2013 dump of National Security Agency documents by Edward Snowden and raises tough questions about junior staffer Teixeira’s access to high-level secrets.
Teixeira, who wore a beige jumpsuit and appeared glum at his first court appearance in Boston, was charged with the “unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information.”
He is also accused of the “unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material.” The counts carry maximum prison sentences of 10 years and five years, respectively.
At one point during the short hearing, his father shouted out, “We love you Jack,” to which Teixeira responded: “Love you too, Dad.”
He was not required to enter a plea and was held pending a detention hearing set for next Wednesday.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland said there were “very serious penalties” associated with the crimes.
“People who sign agreements to be able to receive classified documents acknowledge the importance to the national security of not disclosing those documents, and we intend to send that message (about) how important it is to our national security,” Garland added.
US President Joe Biden said in Ireland, where he was traveling, that he had ordered the Pentagon “to make sure they get to the root of why (Teixeira) had access in the first place, number one, and number two, to focus extensively on the extent to which it all occurred.”
Teixeira is suspected of posting the documents, some dated as recently as early March, to a private chat group on the social media platform Discord.
The New York Times reported that Teixeira was the leader of the group called Thug Shaker Central and reportedly posted the documents under the nickname “OG.”
He first wrote down the contents of classified documents to share with the group but later began taking photos, telling other members not to share them, according to a court affidavit by an FBI agent released Friday.
Some of the documents later appeared on other sites, including Twitter, 4Chan and Telegram.
Among new revelations from the documents, US intelligence services were aware of up to four additional Chinese spy balloons other than the one that was spotted in late January as it entered US airspace, then tracked sailing across the US before fighter jets shot it down over the Atlantic February 4, the Washington Post reported.
One of the earlier Chinese balloons flew over a US aircraft carrier and its strike group on maneuvers in the Pacific, the Post said.
Investigators have not yet suggested what Teixeira’s motive was.
He enlisted with the US Air Force National Guard in September 2019 and was an IT and communications specialist who reached the rank of airman first class — the third-lowest for enlisted air force personnel.
Friends of Teixeira described him to The Washington Post as a devout Catholic and libertarian who is interested in guns.
The newspaper reported that his father spent 34 years in the same military unit as his son, while Teixeira’s mother worked for non-profit organizations that support veterans.
Teixeira’s dramatic arrest at his home in the southern Massachusetts town of Dighton was broadcast live on US TV networks Thursday.
Helicopter footage of the operation showed the suspect dressed in red shorts and a T-shirt with his hands behind his head, backing slowly toward rifle-armed, camouflage-clad law enforcement personnel who took him into custody.
Friday’s court affidavit said that Teixeira had possessed top-secret security clearance since 2021 and was privy to further information that not everyone with a regular top secret clearance needs to know.
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