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FBI arrest Air National guardsman as suspected leaker of Pentagon documents

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The man suspected of leaking top-secret military documents on social media is facing arraignment this morning in a Massachusetts courtroom. Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was arrested yesterday at his family home south of Boston. Those leaked documents revealed U.S. assessments of the war in Ukraine, as well as sensitive secrets about American allies. NPR cybersecurity correspondent Jenna McLaughlin has been reporting on all this. And our colleague Michel Martin spoke with her earlier.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So this is a fast-moving story, so if you would first just walk us through the timeline.

JENNA MCLAUGHLIN, BYLINE: Absolutely. So the search for Jack Teixeira has been a whirlwind. Everyone's been working backwards to try to find the original source of these documents, some of which, as you mentioned, included sensitive details about the war in Ukraine. So after The New York Times reported on a handful of these classified documents surfacing in Russian Telegram channels last week, the investigative outlet Bellingcat and others, including NPR, found more images posted earlier on websites like 4Chan and Discord, which is a social media platform that's popular with gamers. Once we found the documents on Discord, it really was like following a trail of breadcrumbs to the original poster.

MARTIN: So tell us, first of all, what is the government alleging that Teixeira did? And tell us more about what you found out about him and what he's all about, the people he's connected to.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. So we haven't seen a formal indictment yet. He's due to appear in court today. But we did hear that the Espionage Act is what he'll be accused under. I followed the trail on Discord to try to find out more about his friends. I was pretty quickly banned by those guys because I use my real name as a journalist, and they made it pretty clear that they didn't want to talk to me. But I got some information about those friends who are part of a since-banned private Discord channel where the documents were first posted.

One of those users was a young man in California, and another was an unidentified man who supposedly originally created the channel that they gathered on together. Based on their social media profiles, it's really clear that this group was fascinated by things like Orthodox Catholicism, guns and racist and vile memes. The guy who supposedly founded the group was actually using a profile picture of a computer programmer named Terry Davis. He suffered from schizophrenia, and he talked about hearing the voice of God. He would go on expletive-laden rants. He was apparently a hero to some of these communities.

As for the family, they locked down their social media profiles pretty quickly. But his stepfather and stepbrother appear to have worked for the same military base as Teixeira, Joint Base Cape Cod. His stepbrother had deleted his LinkedIn, but it still showed up in Google results. And I saw he identified as a cryptologic analyst for the U.S. Air Force. We also obtained Teixeira's military service records, and he's listed as a cyber transport systems journeyman, or basically what sounds like an IT tech employee.

MARTIN: So here's the big question. We're here in Washington, D.C. We know a lot of people with security clearances. The process of getting one is rather involved. How did he have access to all these classified documents?

MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. That process can take years. But as an IT professional, actually, you typically have access to a lot of records because you need to fix systems when they break. That was actually the case for Edward Snowden, too, who leaked a trove of NSA documents in 2014. He was a systems administrator, though these leakers don't actually seem very similar. But, you know, this has caused a real problem. And the Pentagon is definitely looking at reevaluating who gets access to these kind of files.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Jenna McLaughlin. Jenna, thank you.

MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jenna McLaughlin
Jenna McLaughlin is NPR's cybersecurity correspondent, focusing on the intersection of national security and technology.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.