Around a week after dozens of secret US defence and intelligence documents were leaked online, a 21-year-old man was arrested on Thursday in the matter by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The US authorities identified the man as Jack Teixeira, a member of the intelligence unit at the US National Air Guard's air wing. The involvement of the 21-year-old National Guardsman poses more questions than answers at the moment, the foremost being that how such a young and low-ranking member acquired such top-secret documents.
Dozens, even hundreds, of documents have been leaked which detail Ukraine War's insider details, US spying operations, US national security and foreign policy assessments, and detail Ukrainian and Russian military capabilities, among others.
Such leaks come around the time when Ukraine is expected to shortly start a fresh offensive against Russian forces in Ukraine. Even as the US government scrambles to contain the fallout, experts questions whether the leak would undermine the trust of allies and partners in the United States, particularly as most secretive aspects of their relationship are deemed susceptible to leaks.
Here we explain what the leaked documents show, who is the suspect Jack Teixeira, and what are the concerns over the leaks.
What do leaked documents show?
The leaked documents show a wide range of US security and foreign policy assessments, insider details of Ukraine War, and spying reports on adversaries and partners alike. Some of the US partners included in the reports are the United Kingdom (UK), Israel, South Korea, and United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In a damning claim for the West, the documents also show the presence of Western special forces personnel inside Ukraine. The West, including the United States, has a stated policy of not sending soldiers into Ukraine.
However, authenticity of the documents is in question, with reports not independently verifying all the documents. At least one set of papers leaked appear to be doctored to show reduced casualties of Russians in Ukraine War, suggesting a potential Russian hand in the leak.
Here we mention the major findings from the leaked documents:
1. Weapon failures in Ukraine: A document marked secret and to not be shared with non-US personnel, it's detailed how a certain weapon system in Ukraine could be failing.
2. The poor state of Ukrainian air defence: Despite US-led Western world supplying top-notch military equipment to Ukraine, the country is still reliant on Soviet-era air defence, reports Yahoo News, adding that the West is resorting to dubious methods of replenishing Soviet-era equipment amid concerns over effectiveness of Ukrainian air defence, show the documents, such as sourcing third-party equipment connected to Russian suppliers and tweaking own equipment to plug to Ukraine's Soviet equipment.
3. Spying details: US spying operations on allies and adversaries alike are detailed in the documents.
"The U.S. spied on its ally South Korea, according to one leaked document, to obtain evidence of internal concerns in Seoul about its possible supply of 330,000 155 millimeter artillery shells to Poland," reports Yahoo, adding that the leaks also show that chief of Israeli spy agency Mossad was instigated popular protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
4. Special forces in Ukraine: The leaks also show that dozens of Western special forces personnel are deployed secretely in Ukraine. The UK has the highest number of special forces personnel, as per the leaks.
The BBC reports, "According to the document, dated 23 March, the UK has the largest contingent of special forces in Ukraine (50), followed by fellow Nato states Latvia (17), France (15), the US (14) and the Netherlands (1)...The numbers of personnel may be small, and will doubtless fluctuate. But special forces are by their very nature highly effective. Their presence in Ukraine is likely to be seized upon by Moscow, which has in recent months argued that it is not just confronting Ukraine, but Nato as well."
5. Foreign policy assessment: Foreign policy assessments not related to Ukraine are also mentioend in the leaked documents. Yahoo reports that a leaked document marked Top Secret shows that Viktor Orban’s Hungary considers the United States its many adversary. Notably, Hungary under Orban has drifted towards Russia. The leaks also tough the UK policy regarding China.
"Another text suggests that the United Kingdom is planning to deploy one of the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers to the South Pacific to counter Chinese influence in the region. It also assesses the priorities of the U.K. opposition Labour Party and how Beijing would react to an incoming Labour government scrapping the South Pacific plan in order to focus resources closer to home. This is also designated for American eyes only," reports Yahoo.
While these are the major findings of the leaked documents, several other things are also covered in the leaks, such as the Marburg virus in Equatorial Guinea or Nigerian election. The leaks also tough the Ukraine War casualty count, which were doctored.
Yahoo reported, "Whoever doctored them put the estimated killed-in-action figure for Ukraine, 16,000-17,500 — in the Russian field, which originally gave 35,500–43,500 killed in action. It also transposed the digits for the Ukrainian assessment, changing 16,000-17,500 to 61,000-71,500."
How were the documents leaked?
The leak was first traced to Discord, a social media platform popular with gamers. However, a report by open-source intelligene tracker Bellingcat says that the documents had a longer trajectory before they were finally found.
"Bizarrely, the Discord channels in which the documents dated from March were posted focused on the Minecraft computer game and fandom for a Filipino YouTube celebrity. They then spread to other sites such as the imageboard 4Chan before appearing on Telegram, Twitter and then major media publishers around the world in recent days," reported Bellingcat, adding that some documents could have been posted earlier as well.
The leaked documents contain human as well as technical intelligence inputs, according to reports. The agencies whose documents are spread across the US Department of Defence and the US intelligence community, which comprise of 18 agencies such as CIA, FBI, DIA, etc.
"Most of the material, U.S. officials have said, appears to be genuine. Many are the result of digital and communications intercepts, not only from U.S. enemies but also from allies and partners," reports Yahoo.
"At least two of the reports were derived from human intelligence," meaning spies or informants in place in other countries, Thomas Rid, a professor of strategic studies at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told Yahoo News. "And very specific targets now know their communications are intercepted."
If adversaries figure out how such leaks were made, then they could plug such leaks and US intelligence community might lose crucial sources of intelligence collection.
Who is Jack Teixeira, suspect arrested in leaks?
Jack Teixeira, 21, serves as Airman 1st Class in the 102nd Intelligence Support Squadron, 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. He was posted at Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, as per Politico.
Teixeira was arrested on Thursday by the FBI. Armed FBI personnel surrounded his home and arrested him dressed in casuals. Footage of FBI personnel escording him during the arrest were shared by media.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Teixeira would be charged with the unauthorized removal of classified national defense information.
The New York Times reported that Teixeira managed the private group on Discord called Thug Shaker Central, where "about 20 to 30 people, mostly young men and teenagers, came together over a shared love of guns, racist online memes and video games". The documents were first shared on Discord.
The motive of sharing the documents is not yet known. Notably, the documents shared in the leaks are photographs of print-outs of documents. The surroundings in photographs suggested they could have been clicked at the same place. Hundreds of officers and agents across organisations had access to these documents. Questions have been raised about the supervision of such access.
The investigative website Bellingcat and The New York Times first publicly identified Teixeira, minutes before federal officials confirmed he was a subject of interest in the investigation. They reported tracking profiles on other more obscure sites linked to Teixeira. The suspect, as part of his duties, reportedly had access to highly classified information.
In previous Associated Press stories, the leaker was identified as “the O.G.” by a member of an online chat group where Teixeira and others posted for years. The member of the chat group declined to give his name to the AP, citing concerns for his personal safety.
The chat group, called “Thug Shaker Central,” drew roughly two dozen enthusiasts who talked about their favorite types of guns and also shared memes and jokes, some of them racist. The group also included a running discussion on wars that included talk of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
In that discussion, “the O.G.” would for months post material that he said was classified — originally typing it out with his own notations, then a few months ago switching to posting images of folded-up papers because he felt his writings weren't being taken seriously, the person said.
A different participant in the group shared some of the files several weeks ago in a different chat group — and from there they appear to have spread across the Internet.
The person who spoke to the AP said he had not communicated with Teixeira on Thursday but had stayed in touch earlier in the week. Teixeira had said he knew the FBI was looking for him, the person said.
The person who spoke to the AP says “the O.G.” — who he acknowledged Thursday was Teixeira — was an observant Christian who often spoke of God and prayed with members of the chat group.
While he was enlisted, Teixeira opposed many of the priorities of the U.S. government and denounced the military “since it was run by the elite politicians,” the person said, adding that he didn't know why Teixeira had signed up in the first place.
“He expressed regret (about) joining a lot,” the person said. “He even said he'd kick my ass if I thought about joining.”
But the person has stressed that he didn't believe Teixeira leaked documents to undermine the U.S. government or for an ideological reason.
When The New York Times first published a story last week about the documents, the person said, members of the group were on a video call when “the O.G.” talked to them.
“Basically what he said was, I'm sorry, guys, I prayed every single day that this wouldn't happen,'” the person said. “'I prayed, and I prayed, and now it's only up to God what happens next.'”
Questions that leaks poses
There are several questions that emerge from the leaks, the foremost being that how come such a young and low-ranking person acquired such a vast trove of information.
Moreover, questions have also been raised about the ramifications of leaks on US allies and partners. As it emerges that US was spying on ally South Korea, it is being wondered if allies would be more cautious in dealing with the United States.
Further, if adversaries figure out how US acquired the information that was leaked, then they could plug such leaks and US intelligence community might lose crucial sources of intelligence collection.
It has also been reported that the entire leak could have been orchestrated by an adversary instead of being an act of lone wolf insider gone rogue.
Yahoo reported, "Since the previously reported Ukraine documents have been selectively altered, it is quite possible that even if these documents are real, in part or in whole, they may have been obtained by a hostile foreign intelligence apparatus, if not manipulated or seeded with disinformation designed to undermine U.S. or Ukrainian national security interests. However, even if that is the case, they offer insights into how the source for the leaks wants outside parties to see America’s intelligence assessments across a swath of portfolios and regions."
"Our intelligence collection system runs on trust," Joshua Manning, a former analyst in the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Yahoo News of the leaker’s identification. "In this case, some random MAGA extremist defiled that trust for personal gain. The question the community and especially the Defense Department needs to ask is whether that specific unit and many others across the country and world really need this level of access."
Experst also said that the leak exposes the insufficient government knowledge of the nature and risk of internet-savvy youth.
"The Pentagon is deploying the methods of internet culture as a recruiting tool and innovation as a necessity, but it has apparently not fully grasped the central, simple truth of how the internet has decentralized culture, enabling people to share anonymously and gleefully. And that’s a national security threat," notes Vox.
Moreover, motive is also not yet clear. US national security academic Amy Zegart noted, "A massive leak of highly classified information revealed on a small online gamer channel by an anonymous user with no clear policy goals or telltale signs of the usual motives is an utter mystery."
Citing her, Vox further notes, "She argued that the historically common reasons for a leak are a hack, a mole, or an insider going rogue. Teixeira appears to be closest to the last one. She goes on to say that the two reasons an insider would go rogue are 'ideology and ego', but dismisses those motives given the lack of a media spectacle around the leaks...the more we learn about his posting, in a forum where other young users saw him as 'the undisputed leader', a uniquely social media picture of ego emerges."
(With AP inputs)