The US Air Force national guardsman has appeared in court, ITV News' Robert Moore reports
A 21-year-old US Air Force national guardsman has been charged in connection with the leak of highly classified military documents on the Ukraine war.
Jack Teixeira had originally been identified by The New York Times ahead of his arrest on Thursday as the alleged leader of the group where a trove of classified documents was posted.
On Friday a judge charged Texeira with unauthorised removal and retention of classified and national defence information.
He was ordered to remain behind bars until his next hearing set for next Wednesday.
Texeira, an IT worker in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, is to be charged under the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to remove or transmit classified national defence information, Attorney General Merrick Garland said.
In a statement on Thursday, Mr Garland did not reveal a possible motive, but accounts of those in the online private chat room where the documents were disclosed have depicted Teixeira as motivated more by bravado than ideology.
According to two people familiar with the investigation, Teixeira is a member of the Air National Guard in Massachusetts and specialises in IT.
FBI officials had earlier narrowed the pool of possible suspects in the leak that revealed details about internal US government assessments on the war and about relations with allies.
How serious was the leak?
President Joe Biden's administration has been working to assess the diplomatic and national security consequences of the leaked documents since they were first reported last week.
A top Pentagon spokesman told reporters earlier this week that the disclosures present a “very serious risk to national security".
Given this assessment, the emergence of Teixeira as a primary suspect is bound to raise questions about how such a profound breach could have been caused by such a young, low-ranking service member.
President Joe Biden, speaking to reporters in Ireland earlier on Thursday, said “there’s nothing contemporaneous that I’m aware of that is of great consequence”.
How could the leak have happened?
Teixeira’s speciality in the Air National Guard was as a “cyber transport systems specialist”, essentially an IT specialist responsible for military communications networks, including their cabling and hubs. In that role Teixeira would have had a higher level of security clearance because he would have also been tasked with responsibility for ensuring protection for the networks, a defense official told the Associated Press, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.
The leak is believed to have started on a site called Discord, a social media platform popular with people playing online games and where Teixeira is believed to have posted for years about guns, games and his favourite memes - and, according to some others chatting with him, closely guarded US secrets.
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 leaker was previously 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 in media reports, citing concerns for his personal safety. The chat group, called “Thug Shaker Central,” drew roughly two dozen enthusiasts who talked about their favourite 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.
Discord has said it was cooperating with law enforcement.
How can they find out if Teixeira is the leaker?
There are only a few ways the classified information that was leaked could have been accessed, which may provide critical clues as to who is responsible.
Typically in classified briefings, as with the slides that were placed on Discord, the information is shared electronically.
That is done either through secure computer terminals where users gain access based on their credentials or through tablets that are distributed for briefings and collected afterward.
If the slides need to be printed out instead, they can only be sent to secured printers that are able to handle classified documents - and that keep a digital record of everyone who has requested a printout.
It’s those digital clues like the record of printouts that may help investigators hone in on who took the documents.
In most of the photographs of documents posted online the pictures are of paper copies that look like they had been folded into quarters - almost as if they’d been stuffed into someone’s pocket.
In the days since the leaks came to light, the Pentagon has deferred questions on the investigation to the Justice Department, stating that it’s a criminal matter.
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