Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old US air national guardsman, is believed to have led an online group where classified files appeared.
The FBI has arrested a 21-year-old air national guardsman in Massachusetts suspected of being responsible for the leak of US classified defense documents, which laid bare military secrets and upset Washington’s relations with key allies.
Jack Teixeira was arrested at his home in North Dighton by FBI agents. Helicopter news footage showed a young man with short dark hair, an olive green T-shirt, and red shorts being made for walking backward towards a team of agents standing by an armored vehicle dressed in camouflage and body armor, pointing their rifles at him.
In Washington, the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, confirmed the arrest, saying Teixeira was being held “in connection with an investigation into alleged unauthorized removal, retention, and transmission of classified national defense information.”
Garland said the national air guardsman would initially appear at the Massachusetts district court.
Teixeira is believed to have led an online chat group where hundreds of photographs of secret and top-secret documents were first uploaded from late last year to March. The online group called itself Thug Shaker Central, made up of 20 to 30 young men and teenagers brought together by an enthusiasm for guns, military gear, and video games. Racist language was a common feature of the group.
Former members of Thug Shaker Central have told the investigative journalism organization Bellingcatthe Washington Post and the New York Times that the documents were shared in an apparent attempt to impress the rest of the group rather than to achieve any particular foreign policy outcome.
In Ireland, Joe Biden sought to play down the breach’s impact.
“I’m not concerned about the leak,” Biden insisted. “I’m concerned that it happened. But there’s nothing contemporary that I’m aware of that’s of great consequence.”
The Guardian has seen about 50 of the documents. But there are signs that many more were first posted on Thug Shaker Central. The New York Times had seen about 300 of the papers, only a fraction of which have so far been reported, indicating the national security damage could be worse than has been acknowledged.
The spokesman for the Pentagon, Brig Gen Patrick Ryder, said: “We have rules in place. Each of us signs a nondisclosure agreement, so all indications are that this is a criminal act.”
Part of the inquest into the leak will examine how a 21-year-old air national guardsman in Massachusetts could have access to top secret material vital to US and allied security interests, including battlefield deployments in Ukraine. The Pentagon said it was reviewing its policies on safeguarding classified material, including updating distribution lists and assessing how and where intelligence is shared.
“It’s important to understand that this is not just about DoD [defense department]. This is about the US government,” Ryder said. “This is about how we protect and safeguard classified information. We do have strict protocols in place, so anytime there is an incident anytime, there’s an opportunity to review that and refine it.”
In North Dighton, the woman believed to be Jack Teixeira’s mother, Dawn Dufault, previously Dawn Teixeira, and her husband, Tom Dufault, own a nursery called Bayberry Farm Flower Co. Calls to the company went to voicemail on Thursday. A message said the business is closed this week.
The company’s Facebook page had made mentioned Jack Teixeira in June 2021.
“Jack is on his way home today, tech school complete, ready to start his career in the Air National Guard!” a message said under a photograph of a ‘Welcome home’ balloon.
In December 2020, the company posted congratulating “Jack” on his 19th birthday beneath a picture of a person in a military-type dress.
Some of the newly reported leaked materials are documents showing knowledge of infighting between Russian intelligence and the defense ministry. In one paper written by the New York Times, US officials describe how the Federal Security Service (FSB) had “accused the defense ministry of trying to cover up the extent of Russian casualties in Ukraine.”
The FSB said the official statistics did not include the dead and wounded from the national guard or two powerful militias involved in combat, the Wagner mercenary force and fighters fielded by the Chechen Republic’s warlord leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. The US intelligence assessment was that the spat demonstrated “the continuing reluctance of military officials to convey bad news up the chain of command.”
According to the teenage member of the Thug Shaker group interviewed by the Washington Post, their leader, who he referred to as OG but is now thought to be Teixeira, “had a dark view of the government,” portraying the government, and particularly law enforcement and the intelligence agencies, as a repressive force. He ranted about “government overreach.”
The teenage group member was in touch with the man he called OG in the days leading up to his arrest and said he “seemed very confused and lost as to what to do.” “He’s fully aware of what’s happening and what the consequences may be,” he said. “He’s just unsure how to solve this situation … He seems distraught about it.”
In his final message to his fellow group members, the fugitive told them to “keep low and delete any information that could relate to him,” including any copies of the classified documents.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN