Jack Teixeira, the Air National Guard member suspected of leaking a trove of classified government documents, made his first court appearance Friday to face federal espionage charges.
Teixeira, a 21-year–old member of the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was arrested Thursday by the FBI in Dighton, Massachusetts, officials said.
Teixeira did not enter a plea and will be detained pending a detention hearing next week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts said.
The guardsman faces two criminal charges, one under the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the production and disclosure of classified documents, and a second charge that falls under a statute that makes it a crime to retain and remove such documents.
The Justice Department has long used provisions of the Espionage Act to prosecute leaks of classified government documents.
A criminal complaint unsealed on Friday details Teixeira’s leaks in a gaming chat group on the social media platform Discord. The leaked documents later appeared on various other internet sites.
Quoting a member of the Discord server interviewed by the FBI on April 10, the complaint says Teixeira allegedly served as the administrator of the group and that his goal was “to discuss geopolitical affairs and current and historical wars.”
Initially dropping the classified material as photographs of texts, the guardsman later posted photographs of the documents, concerned that “he may be discovered making transcriptions of text in the workplace,” the complaint says.
One of the documents, the complaint says, described “the status of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, including troop movements,” according to the complaint.
The material had the highest level of classification known as “top secret/sensitive compartmented information,” or TS/SCI, according to the complaint.
Other documents contained highly sensitive information about how the U.S. spies on allies and adversaries, according to several news outlets that have viewed them.
Teixeira reportedly comes from a military family.
He enlisted in the air national guard in 2019 and has been stationed at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts since May 2021, according to the complaint.
As a Cyberdefense Operations Journeyman, he held top security clearance.
In addition, he “maintained sensitive compartmented access [SCI] to other highly classified programs,” the complaint says.
Teixeira’s arrest on Thursday came as U.S. media identified the guard member as the leader of the Discord chat group.
In a statement Thursday, the FBI said it had “aggressively pursued investigative leads” into the leak since late last week.
Teixeira’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,” the FBI said.
The Washington Post described Teixeira as a “young, charismatic gun enthusiast” and “the elder leader” of the group of roughly two dozen gamers on the social media platform Discord.
The Post said it interviewed a member of the Discord group and had details corroborated by another member of the group.
The Discord group member told the newspaper that the alleged leaker, who went by OG, was not “hostile to the U.S. government” but “ranted” about the government and railed at the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence community “as a sinister force that sought to suppress its citizens and keep them in the dark.”
According to a Post investigation, OG posted classified documents to the Discord server throughout the winter before stopping in mid-March.
The halt came a few weeks after another Discord group user posted several dozen of the documents on another Discord server, unleashing a wider dissemination.
The leak alarmed U.S. officials, spawning a frenetic search for the culprit.
Jordan Strauss, a former Justice Department and White House national security official, said U.S. investigators pursued the case with unusual urgency because it involved “very recent and possibly ongoing information” about the war in Ukraine.
“That the leaker presumably had recent or ongoing access to information this sensitive means there would be extreme urgency to find him — not just to prosecute, but to staunch the leak,” according to Strauss, now a managing director at risk and financial advisory firm Kroll.
Speaking to reporters in Ireland on Thursday, President Joe Biden said he was concerned the leak had happened but said, “There’s nothing contemporaneous that I’m aware of that is of great consequence.”