The San Juan Daily Star
Airman shared sensitive intelligence more widely and for longer than previously known
By Aric Toler, Malachy Browne and Julian E. Barnes
The Air National Guardsman accused of leaking classified documents to a small group of gamers had been posting sensitive information months earlier than previously known and to a much larger chat group, according to online postings reviewed by The New York Times.
In February 2022, soon after the invasion of Ukraine, a user profile matching that of Airman Jack Teixeira began posting secret intelligence on the Russian war effort on a previously undisclosed chat group on Discord, a social media platform popular among gamers. The chat group contained about 600 members.
The case against Teixeira, 21, who was arrested on April 13, pertains to the leaking of classified documents on another Discord group of about 50 members, called Thug Shaker Central. There, he began posting sensitive information in October 2022, members of the group told the Times. His job as an information technology specialist at an Air Force base in Massachusetts gave him top secret clearance.
It is not clear whether authorities are aware of the classified material posted on this additional Discord chat group.
The newly discovered information posted on the larger chat group included details about Russian and Ukrainian casualties, activities of Moscow’s spy agencies and updates on aid being provided to Ukraine. The user claimed to be posting information from the National Security Agency, the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
The additional information raises questions about why authorities did not discover the leaks sooner, particularly since hundreds more people would have been able to see the posts.
The exposure of some of America’s most closely guarded secrets has prompted criticism about how the Pentagon and intelligence agencies protect classified data, and whether there are weaknesses in both vetting people for security clearances and enforcing the mantra that access to secrets should only be given to people with a “need to know.”
The Times learned about the larger chat room from a Discord user. Unlike Thug Shaker Central, the second chat room was publicly listed on a YouTube channel and was easily accessed in seconds.
A chain of digital evidence collected by the Times ties the posts containing the sensitive information to Teixeira. The posts were made under a user name that the Times has previously connected to Teixeira. The person leaking the information said he worked at a U.S. Air Force intelligence unit. Details in videos and photographs he posted matched images posted by family members inside the Teixeira home in North Dighton, Massachusetts. Fellow Discord members sent the user birthday wishes on Dec. 21, the same date Teixeira’s sister wished him a happy birthday on Facebook. And he posted a photograph of an antique German rifle for which the Times found an online receipt in Teixeira’s name.
The posts reviewed by the Times appear to be detailed written accounts of the classified documents themselves, and identify which intelligence agency they are from. While it appears that the user likely posted pictures of some documents, those have since been deleted from the chat group.
Joshua Hanye, one of Teixeira’s attorneys from the Boston public defenders office, declined to comment about the latest revelations. Officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department also declined to comment.
It appears the first leak came less than 48 hours into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Saw a pentagon report saying that 1/3rd of the force is being used to invade,” the user wrote. Apparently eager to impress others in the group who questioned his analysis, he said: “I have a little more than open source info. Perks of being in a USAF intel unit,” referring to the U.S. Air Force.
Some of the intelligence posted appeared to foretell battlefield developments. On March 27, 2022, he shared classified information about the Russian pullback from Kyiv, information he said he “found on an NSA site.”
“Some ‘big’ news,” he wrote. “There may be a planned withdrawal of the troops west of Kiev, as in all of them.” Two days later, Russian officials announced they were pulling back from the Ukrainian capital.
Some posts began with an update on casualty numbers. He also reported on Ukraine’s targeting priorities and the activities of Russian intelligence agencies. He took particular interest in posting updates of which countries were providing lethal aid to Ukraine.
At times, he appeared to be posting from the military base where he was stationed. In one conversation, he said he was about to enter an area where people with security clearance can access classified computer networks, known as a SCIF — Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility.
How Teixeira obtained the documents that he is accused of posting online has been a key question for investigators. They believe he used administrator privileges connected to his information technology job to access documents. In his posts, Teixeira said his job gave him access to material that others could not see. “The job I have lets me get privilege’s above most intel guys,” he wrote.
Teixeira also claimed that he was actively combing classified computer networks for material on the Ukraine war. When one of the Discord users urged him not to abuse his access to classified intelligence, Teixeira replied: “too late.”
At one point he offered to share information privately with members of the group living outside the United States. “DM me and I can tell you what I have,” he wrote.
On another occasion, he wrote that he was able to access a site run by the National Security Agency, the U.S. spy agency that focuses on communications intercepted from computer networks, to look for updates on the war.
He also claimed to have access to intelligence from U.S. partners. “I usually work with GCHQ people when I’m looking at foreign countries,” he told the chat group in September 2022, referring to Government Communications Headquarters, the British agency for intelligence, security and cyberaffairs.
A spokesman for the NSA declined to comment, referring questions to the Justice Department. A spokeswoman for the British Embassy declined to comment as well.
Teixeira continued to share more detailed information to the larger chat group until a month ago.
“I was very happy and willing and enthusiastic to have covered this event for the past year and share with all of you something that not many people get to see,” he wrote on March 19, before adding, “I’ve decided to stop with the updates.”