BOSTON — A Massachusetts Air National Guardsman accused of leaking highly classified military documents appeared in court Friday as prosecutors unsealed the charges, revealing how billing records and interviews with social media comrades helped identify the suspect.
Among the revelations: that the Discord platform provided information that helped lead guard Jack Teixeira to the FBI, and that Teixeira used his government computer to search for the word “leak” on the day last week when media reports revealed that classified documents had been stolen. improperly disclosed.
President Joe Biden said the administration was working to determine “the validity” of the leaked documents. Meanwhile, he said in a White House statement: “I have directed our military and intelligence community to take steps to further secure and limit the distribution of sensitive information, and our national security team is coordinating closely with our partners. and allies”.
New details Friday about the highest-profile intelligence leak in years shed light on how investigators zeroed in on Teixeira, 21, even though the reason for the disclosures remains publicly unexplained. The Justice Department has said its investigation is continuing, and the Pentagon, which earlier in the week called it a serious breach of national security, said it would conduct its own review of access to sensitive intelligence to prevent a similar leak in the future. .
Teixeira appeared in federal court in Boston to face charges under the Espionage Act with unauthorized retention and transmission of classified national defense information. He did not plead guilty, but a federal judge ordered him jailed until a detention hearing next week.
The court appearance came less than 24 hours after Teixeira was arrested by heavily armed tactical agents on Thursday following a week-long criminal investigation into the disclosure of government records, a violation that exposed to the world secret evaluations without embellishments about the war in Ukraine, the geopolitical capabilities and interests of other nations, and other national security issues.
“This is not just about bringing documents home. That is, of course, itself illegal. But it is about the transmission, both the illegal retention and the transmission of the documents. Everyone here knows that the documents were eventually forwarded,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday at the Justice Department.
Investigators believe Teixeira was the leader of a private online chat group on Discord, a social media platform popular with people who play online games and where Teixeira is believed to have posted for years about guns, games and his favorite memes. .
The eight-page court affidavit details various steps in the FBI’s investigation, including an interview Monday with a Discord user familiar with Teixeira’s online posts. The document does not identify the person or say how she was located. But the source told the FBI that a username linked to Teixeira began posting what appeared to be classified information around December in an online chat room that the user said was intended for discussion of geopolitical issues and past wars and current.
The person provided the FBI with basic identifying information about Teixeira, including that he called himself “Jack,” claimed to be with the Air National Guard, and appeared to live in Massachusetts, according to the affidavit.
Billing records that the FBI later obtained from Discord, which has said it was cooperating with the bureau, helped lead investigators to Teixeira, according to the FBI affidavit.
The person also told the FBI that Teixeira switched from writing documents in his possession to taking them home and photographing them because “he was concerned that he might be caught doing the text transcriptions at the workplace.”
That’s different from what the posters told The Associated Press and other news outlets, saying the user they’d call “the OG” started posting images of documents because he was upset that other users weren’t taking him seriously.
Known as Thug Shaker Central, the group attracted roughly two dozen enthusiasts who talked about their favorite types of guns and also shared memes and jokes. The group also had an ongoing discussion on wars that included talk of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The affidavit also alleges that Teixeira was detected on April 6, the day The New York Times first published a story about the breach of documents, searching for the word “leak” in a classified system. The FBI says that was the reason to believe that Teixeira was trying to find information about the investigation into who was responsible for the leaks.
The Justice Department has not cited a particular motive. Accounts from members of the private online chat group where the documents were revealed have described Teixeira as motivated more by bravery than ideology.
His court appearance on Friday was brief. He walked into the courtroom dressed in tan inmate clothing and sat down at the defense table next to his attorney. In the end, a man who appeared to be a family member in the front row told Teixeira that he loved him, and the defendant replied: “I love you too.” His lawyer did not return a message seeking comment.
The Biden administration has struggled to contain the potential diplomatic and military fallout from the leaks since they were first reported, moving to reassure allies and assess the extent of the damage.
The classified documents, which have not been individually authenticated in public by US officials, range from briefing slides outlining Ukraine’s military positions to assessments of international support for Ukraine and other sensitive topics, including under what circumstances Russian President Vladimir Putin might use nuclear weapons.
Classified documents have strict guidelines on how they must be handled, protected, and destroyed. They are required to be kept in secure facilities, protocols that Teixeira would have violated if copies were brought to his home.
It is not yet known how Teixeira, an information technology specialist, allegedly obtained the documents or what security measures had been put in place. The FBI said it has had a top secret security clearance since 2021 with access to highly classified programs.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a statement issued after the arrest, said the Pentagon would conduct a review of its “intelligence control, accountability and access procedures” to prevent such a leak from happening again.
At the Justice Department, Garland noted that government officials and others authorized to review classified documents sign agreements that “recognize the national security importance of not disclosing those documents.”
“We intend to send that message: how important it is to our national security,” he said.
AP writers Tucker and Merchant reported from Washington. AP writers Lindsay Whitehurst and Tara Copp contributed to this report.