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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Hugo Lowell in Washington

Pentagon documents: key takeaways from the Jack Teixeira charges

Jack Teixeira appears in court in Boston, Massachusetts, as seen in a courtroom sketch.
Jack Teixeira appears in court in Boston, Massachusetts, as seen in a courtroom sketch. Photograph: Margaret Small/Reuters

Jack Teixeira, the 21-year-old member of the air national guard suspected of leaking hundreds of top secret Pentagon documents on a gaming chat server, was charged on Friday under the Espionage Act and a statute relating to the mishandling of classified documents.

Teixeira was charged in federal court in Boston with two separate counts: 18 USC 793(b) and 793(d), the unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information, and 18 USC 1924, the unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents.

During the hearing, the US prosecutor Nadine Pellegrini said the government would seek 10 years on each of the charges Teixeira faces. Here are four takeaways from the 11-page criminal complaint which details FBI efforts to identify Teixeira as the origin of the leak.

1 An unidentified user cooperated with the FBI investigation

According to the charging papers, the FBI investigation initially relied on a member of Teixeira’s group on a Discord server – identified as “User 1” – who spoke at length to the case agent on 10 April about how Teixeira had been posting classified information.

The agent said that he was told Teixeira had started posting the contents of classified documents to the server as plain text starting around December 2022, before starting posting photographs of the documents around January 2023.

One of the classified documents Teixeira posted related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict including troop movements, User 1 told the agent. When the agent checked the document, he found it was classified at the top secret/sensitive compartmented information level.

2 Teixeira knew he could get into trouble

When interviewing User 1, the charging papers said, the agent learned that Teixeira stopped posting the contents of the classified documents as plain text around January because he grew “concerned that he may be discovered making the transcriptions of text in the workplace”.

From that point on, Teixeira switched to “taking the documents to his residence and photographing” the classified documents in order to post them on the Discord server. Analysis of the photos by a Bellingcat reporter revealed he had been taking those photos in his parents’ kitchen.

3 The FBI identified Teixeira as the leaker within days

The agent’s interview with User 1 also revealed that Teixeira had been posting under his own username – instead of a burner account – and told other members of the Discord server his first name, that he lived in Massachusetts and that he worked for the air national guard.

And when the FBI subpoenaed Discord for Teixeira’s account details, the records produced on 12 April showed Teixeira had put himself down as the billing name and used his own home in North Dighton, Massachusetts, as the billing address – the same address on his military file.

The military file also showed that Teixeira probably came into possession of the classified documents lawfully. He enlisted in the air national guard in September 2019, and had both a top secret and sensitive compartmented information clearance as part of his cyber operations job since May 2021.

4 Teixeira tracked the FBI investigation into his own leak

The charging papers also detailed how Teixeira searched the word “leak” on his US government computer on 6 April, the first day of news reporting about the Pentagon leaks that he had caused, in an apparent effort to see whether he had been unmasked as the source.

But by using classified networks to keep track of internal briefings about his own leak, the search was logged by the US government’s monitoring systems and later collected by the FBI.

The search by leakers for reporting about their own leaks is common. Both former US army analyst Chelsea Manning and CIA software engineer Joshua Schulte – convicted on Espionage Act charges – went back to check on investigations into their unauthorized transmissions of classified materials.

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