The FBI on Thursday arrested Massachusetts Air National Guard member Jack Teixeira in connection with a major leak of highly classified government documents, authorities announced, marking the latest turn in an embarrassing scandal that has exposed American intelligence secrets and fueled tensions between the U.S. and its allies abroad.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the arrest of Airman Teixeira, 21, shortly after FBI agents converged on his Massachusetts home. The New York Times identified the airman as a potential suspect in the case earlier Thursday.
“FBI agents took Teixeira into custody earlier this afternoon without incident. He will have an initial appearance at the U.S. District Court for the district of Massachusetts,” Mr. Garland said at a press conference Thursday, declining to answer reporters’ questions.
Airman Teixeira, who was reportedly living in his mother’s home in southeastern Massachusetts, will be charged with unauthorized removal of classified national defense information, Mr. Garland said.
Airman Teixeira reportedly controlled a private chatroom on the online Discord gamer chat app called “Thug Shaker Central” that included about 20 to 30 people, mostly young men and teenagers. He reportedly began sharing classified government documents on that server late last year or early this year, though the documents seem to have gone widely unnoticed until one member of the group began sharing some of the documents on other, more public parts of the app.
It’s unclear how or why Airman Teixeira would have had access to intelligence that included U.S. assessments of the Ukrainian military, internal political conversations among South Korean officials, and a host of other information that presumably would have been restricted on a need-to-know basis within high levels of the armed forces and intelligence community.
The National Guard did not confirm the alleged leaker’s identity but acknowledged the reports that one of their personnel was involved.
“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, according to the Associated Press.
President Biden signaled earlier in the day that an arrest may be imminent.
“We’re getting close,” he told reporters while traveling in Ireland.
Just minutes before the arrest, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the Defense Department is reviewing its protocols for access to sensitive information, though he stressed that the alleged perpetrators broke the laws and guidelines already in place.
“It is important to understand that we do have stringent guidelines in place for safeguarding classified and sensitive information,” Gen. Ryder said. “This was a deliberate criminal act, a violation of those guidelines. Again, that’s important to understand.”
The sheer scope of the documents Airman Teixeira allegedly had access to is stunning.
One document appeared to show that the U.S. gathered signals intelligence related to South Korea’s internal debate over weapons sales to the U.S., and Seoul’s fears that those weapons would ultimately end up in Ukraine. That document could drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul, an irreplaceable American ally in the Pacific.
One paper contained apparent U.S. intelligence suggesting that Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, had encouraged its staff and Israeli citizens to join recent domestic protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial reform plan. Israel rejected that claim.
Of most immediate concern could be documents related to Ukraine and its war effort. The documents reportedly include pessimistic assessments of Ukraine’s chances for success in its upcoming spring offensive, along with more tangible information such as the Ukrainian military’s “burn rate” of U.S.-supplied artillery and other equipment. Some of the leaked material wound up on a pro-Russian site and appeared to be altered to favor the Kremlin’s view of the war.