Federal authorities identified and arrested the suspected source of the Pentagon documents leak, Jack Teixeira, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard who was the creator of a Discord chat group where the classified documents were originally shared. Below is what we know about the unusual circumstances of the alleged leaker.
Jack Teixeira is arrested and charged
Around 2 p.m. on Thursday, the 21-year-old Teixeira was arrested outside his family home in southeastern Massachusetts:
Soon after, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that Teixeira was arrested for violating the Espionage Act. In federal court in Boston on Friday, Teixeira was charged with one count of unauthorized transmission of national defense information and one count of unauthorized removal of classified documents or material. If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison. Teixeira did not enter a formal plea. He will remain in custody until a detention hearing on April 19.
At one point during his court appearance, Teixeira’s father shouted that he loved him. “Love you, too, dad,” Teixeira said back.
How the docs leaked
Teixeira is the creator of Thug Shaker Central, an online gaming community on Discord where the classified documents were originally published, according to the New York Times. The Times story was able to link Teixeira to the group via his online gaming profile and details in the margins of photos of intelligence documents that matched features of his childhood home shared on social media — including the countertop in his parent’s home. At Joint Base Cape Cod in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, Otis Teixeira was employed as a “cyber transport systems specialist,” which involves IT work for military comms systems.
According to an affidavit unsealed on Friday, Teixeira began posting classified information in December 2022. An unnamed source who spoke with the FBI said Teixeira was worried about getting caught with the documents at work, so he took them to home to photograph them. The affidavit states that at least one of the documents he posted he gained access to through his role at the Air National Guard. The affidavit also states that, on April 6, Teixeira searched a classified government database for the word “leak” when the story emerged in the news.
According to members of the Discord group who spoke with the Times, the group of 20 to 30 online friends conversed over their fondness for guns and video games; they also liked to share racist memes. Months ago, one of the Thug Shaker Central users began uploading hundreds of pages of intelligence briefings for the chat to parse over; the person lectured his friends on “the importances of staying abreast of world events,” per the Times. The intelligence docs may have remained in the private Discord group, but one 17-year-old reposted them in a public channel. The documents made their way through gamer chat groups until they began appearing on the messaging app Telegram in early April, when Russian supporters of the war began circulating them.
The Washington Post first broke the story of the man known to Thug Shaker Central as “O.G.,” reporting late Wednesday that he leaked documents apparently with the intent to wow his friends in the closed chat group. A teenage member of the group said the first leaks were posted in the form of notes taken about the documents, before O.G. moved on to posting photographs of the documents themselves.
OG told the group he toiled for hours writing up the classified documents to share with his companions in the Discord server he controlled. The gathering spot had been a pandemic refuge, particularly for teen gamers locked in their houses and cut off from their real-world friends. The members swapped memes, offensive jokes and idle chitchat. They watched movies together, joked around and prayed. But OG also lectured them about world affairs and secretive government operations. He wanted to “keep us in the loop,” the member said, and seemed to think that his insider knowledge would offer the others protection from the troubled world around them.
“He’s a smart person. He knew what he was doing when he posted these documents, of course. These weren’t accidental leaks of any kind,” the member said.
The transcribed documents OG posted traversed a range of sensitive subjects that only people who had undergone months-long background checks would be authorized to see. There were top-secret reports about the whereabouts and movements of high-ranking political leaders and tactical updates on military forces, the member said. Geopolitical analysis. Insights into foreign governments’ efforts to interfere with elections. “If you could think it, it was in those documents.”
The alleged leaker is an unusual suspect to be involved in a matter of national security — young enough that he was conversing with recent high school graduates. “This guy was a Christian, anti-war, just wanted to inform some of his friends about what’s going on,” a 17-year-old Discord chat member told the Times. “We have some people in our group who are in Ukraine. We like fighting games, we like war games.” Unlike other leakers in recent years, Teixeira was not motivated to publish the documents to reveal aspects of U.S. intelligence gathering, but because he allegedly wanted to impress his friends.
What is in the leaked documents?
The papers reportedly include around 300 photos of classified documents and more text posts transcribing other reports based on intelligence collected by the NSA, CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office (which is responsible for American spy satellites.) The docs appear to show CIA recruiting tactics, the satellite information used to track Russian forces, and that U.S. spies have substantial access in the Kremlin. While the documents have been circulating beyond the Thug Shaker Central chat for months, the Pentagon only became aware of them after a Times report on April 6.