BREAKING: NYT identifies military leaker as ... an Air National Guardsman?

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Does anyone else get the feeling that the people who are supposed to be looking for the leaker are lagging behind the people who are reporting on it? First, the Washington Post reported on the Discord gamer-chat group where the leaked intelligence first appeared. Now the New York Times shows up at the alleged leaker’s house ahead of the feds:


The leader of a small online gaming chat group where a trove of classified U.S. intelligence documents leaked over the last few months is a 21-year-old member of the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The national guardsman, whose name is Jack Teixeira, oversaw a private online group named Thug Shaker Central, where about 20 to 30 people, mostly young men and teenagers, came together over a shared love of guns, racist online memes and video games.

Two U.S. officials confirmed that investigators want to talk to Airman Teixeira about the leak of the government documents to the private online group. One official said Airman Teixeira might have information relevant to the investigation.

Are they sure they found the actual leaker? The Associated Press reported simultaneously that the Department of Justice and the FBI had only “narrowed” the pool:

The Justice Department and FBI have narrowed the pool of potential suspects believed responsible for the disclosure of highly classified military documents on the Ukraine war, a person familiar with the investigation said Thursday.

Perhaps both could be true. That might explain what happened when NYT reporters showed up at a residence associated with Teixeira. According to Teixeira’s mother and an unidentified male, they were waiting for the FBI to show up:

When asked if Airman Teixeira was there and willing to speak, the man said: “He needs to get an attorney if things are flowing the way they are going right now. The Feds will be around soon, I’m sure.”


So the Post got to the members first and the NYT identified and located the suspect’s residence before the FBI could do either? If that’s true, then … ye gods. Scott Johnson would win that bet, if true.

The NYT claims it talked with four members of the Thug Shaker Central group, all of whom identified “OG” as the source of the material, but none of whom would identify him. The reporters then tracked OG’s digital footprints to Teixeira, along with the help of Bellingcat, intel and cyber experts:

That certainly lends some credibility to the project, and once again raises questions as to why the FBI and DoJ didn’t get there first. However, this theory has a big problem that the Times acknowledges in its report, along with a possible explanation:

It was not immediately clear if a young Air National Guardsman in his position could have had access to such highly sensitive briefings. Officials within the U.S. government with security clearance often receive such documents through daily emails, one official told The Times, and those emails might then be automatically forwarded to other people.


Er … maybe? That description doesn’t square with the Post’s report on what and how this material was produced for the Thug Shaker Central group. It also doesn’t make much sense, given how sensitive this material supposedly is, and especially given its nature. Why would estimates on Russian and Ukrainian battle losses get e-mailed to an Air National Guard enlistee in Massachusetts? Why would anyone in the ANG have access to diplomatic intelligence, also reportedly part of the leaked material? This really doesn’t add up.

Since this is all a government operation, it’s impossible to say that something this stupid wasn’t happening. However, given the compartmentalization of information in classified systems, it would seem at least unlikely. One has to wonder whether the NYT and Bellingcat identified a member of the group other than OG, and whether OG didn’t cover his tracks to create a wild-goose chase by setting up one of his cult members as a patsy. And if that’s the case, then maybe the FBI and DoJ are actually ahead of the media on this investigation.

On the other hand, maybe our classified material systems really are this badly managed and Teixeira is the real culprit. That might not be terribly surprising, either, after years of watching classified material being mishandled.

Stay tuned, and stay a little skeptical until confirmation emerges, too.

Update: NBC News reports that “US officials” claim to have been onto Teixeira for a while, and that an arrest is imminent:


The person suspected of recently leaking classified U.S. government documents has been identified as Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, two law enforcement officials said Thursday.

Officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said they have been onto him for some time and that an arrest is imminent.

The classified documents from the Department of Defense were found online last month — it remains unclear how long the documents had been on the internet and the total number that have been posted — and revealed details of U.S. spying on Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine, secret assessments of Ukraine’s combat power, as well as intelligence gathering on America’s allies, including South Korea and Israel, NBC News previously reported.

And an Air National Guardsman in Massachusetts had access to all that? Really? And if it’s true that the government has been “onto him for some time,” why did the NYT and WaPo get there first?

Update: The Wall Street Journal confirms that Teixeira is their suspect and that he worked at Fort Bragg at the time of the leak. However, their description of the material again raises the question as to how Teixeira would have had access to it (via Sean Truax):

The bulk of the more than 60 documents that have been made public so far appear to originate from the Central Intelligence Agency’s Operations Center and the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.


The WSJ also raises the question of whether the Wagner Group may have had a hand in the leak:

On Wednesday, Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith said his company’s “digital-threat analysis team” has been spotting efforts by Russians in recent months to infiltrate online communities around videogaming. In-game chats built into popular videogames have been used as a channel for covert communication by spies and terrorists in the past, according to people familiar with intelligence operations.

“It is the Wagner Group, it is Russian intelligence, and they’re just in part using this as a place to get information into circulation,” Mr. Smith said at a summit convened by the news platform Semafor. “That’s what happened here. It included the Discord channel around Minecraft.”

So maybe this material got stolen by Russian intel and circulated back to Teixeira? That could be an explanation, but it sure would make Teixeira look like an idiot. If that’s the case, one has to wonder what his followers will think of him now.

Update: More from the Washington Post, which explains how Teixeira might have had access to material this sensitive … even as an enlistee at this low rank:

Teixeira told members of the online group Thug Shaker Central that he worked as an technology support staffer for the Massachusetts Air National Guard and at a base on Cape Cod, and this was how he was able to access classified documents, one member of the Discord server told the Post.

A Facebook post from the 102nd Intelligence Wing, with headquarters at Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod, congratulated an individual by the same name for his promotion to airman first class in July.


In other words, it sounds an awful lot like the Manning case, at least in terms of idiotic exposure of highly classified material. Speaking of idiotic, Teixeira’s online persona was named ….

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the individual who leaked the information shared documents with a small circle of online friends on the Discord chat platform, which is popular with gamers. In that group, these people said, Teixeira’s handle was jackthedripper.

Emphasis mine. Way to avoid any connection to leaking, Jack!

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David Strom 3:30 PM | June 20, 2024