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FBI arrests Massachusetts airman Jack Teixeira in leaked documents probe

National Guardsman arrested in Pentagon leak
FBI arrests 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guardsman in Pentagon leak 02:58

Washington — Federal law enforcement officials arrested a 21-year-old Massachusetts man allegedly connected to the disclosure of dozens of secret documents that revealed sensitive U.S. defense and intelligence information, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday.

In brief remarks at Department of Justice headquarters, Garland identified the suspect as Jack Teixeira, an airman in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, and said he was arrested "in connection with an investigation into alleged unauthorized removal, retention and transmission of classified national defense information." The New York Times, which first revealed his name Thursday, reported that Teixeira is a member of the guard's 102nd Intelligence Wing.

Garland said FBI agents "took Teixeira into custody earlier this afternoon without incident." Before he spoke, a news helicopter flying over Teixeira's mother's house in North Dighton, Massachusetts, captured footage of him dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, walking backward with his hands on his head as officers carrying rifles looked on. Teixeira was quickly taken into custody and brought to the back of an armored vehicle.

A man is taken into custody by federal law enforcement officials in North Dighton, Massachusetts, on Thursday, April 13, 2023.
Jack Teixeira is taken into custody by federal law enforcement officials in North Dighton, Massachusetts, on Thursday, April 13, 2023. CBS News

The attorney general said Teixeira will appear in court to face charges in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. The FBI said in a statement that agents were "continuing to conduct authorized law enforcement activity at the residence." 

President Biden was briefed Thursday evening about the arrest, White House officials told CBS News. Mr. Biden is in Ireland this week. Defense Secretary Austin commended the swift arrest and said those with access to classified information have a "solemn legal and moral obligation to safeguard it and to report any suspicious activity or behavior."

Pentagon records show Teixeira entered the Air National Guard in September 2019 and worked as a "cyber transport systems journeyman." In general, the position is responsible for supporting network infrastructure and making sure the communications network used by the Air Force is operating properly, according to a Defense official.

Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon's press secretary, called the disclosures "a deliberate criminal act" but declined to comment further at a briefing on Thursday. "This is a law enforcement matter, and it would be inappropriate for me or any other DoD official to comment at this time," he said.

Teixeira's arrest came hours after a story in The Washington Post detailed a small online community on the platform Discord where the documents appeared to have first been shared by the group's leader over the course of several months. Earlier reporting by Bellingcat traced the documents' supposed path from that server, known as "Thug Shaker Central," to a larger Discord community, where they appeared in early March. They then migrated to 4chan, Twitter and Russian Telegram channels just last week, when they first came to the attention of U.S. officials.

The Post said the person who first shared the documents was known to fellow members as "OG" and worked on a military base. Other members of the group told the Post that OG was not motivated by politics or ideology, and did not intend for the documents to be shared outside the Discord community, which was said to include about two dozen users.

President Biden said during his visit to Dublin on Thursday that investigators were close to identifying a suspect. 

The dozens of documents reviewed by CBS News contained details about the war in Ukraine, including information about anticipated Russian airstrikes on specific targets and other Russian war plans. The records offer an unprecedented glimpse into U.S. efforts to support the Ukrainian government, as well as the extent to which U.S. intelligence agencies have penetrated Russian communication channels to the benefit of Ukrainian forces.

The documents also showed the U.S. keeping close tabs on allies. One document detailed conversations between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his top military official. Another relayed concerns expressed by South Korea's leaders about sending ammunition to Ukraine. A third said leaders of Israel's intelligence agency advocated for intelligence officials and Israeli citizens to protest against divisive judicial reforms proposed by the government.

At least one of the documents appeared to have been doctored to minimize Russian casualties in Ukraine, with changing figures as it spread from Discord to other online platforms. U.S. officials have cautioned that other documents might have been altered, while acknowledging that others matched similar documents distributed to military planners.

"Photos appear to show documents similar in format to those used to provide daily updates to our senior leaders on Ukraine and Russia related operations, as well as other intelligence updates," Chris Meagher, assistant to the defense secretary for public affairs, told reporters Monday. 

Asked Monday if the threat to national security has been contained, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said, "We don't know. We truly don't know." 

The disclosures have drawn comparisons to previous intelligence breaches, including Chelsea Manning's disclosure of classified information to WikiLeaks in 2010 and Edward Snowden leaking a trove of documents about the National Security Agency's spying programs in 2013. This disclosure appeared to contain information that was much more recent than information revealed in other instances, with some documents dated as recently as March.

Military leaders have contacted allies to try to contain the fallout from the revelations over U.S. surveillance activities. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his South Korean counterpart on Monday to discuss the leak and told him he would closely communicate with him and cooperate with the South Korean government on the issue, according to the country's defense ministry. Austin has also spoken with the NATO Secretary General and his counterparts in the U.K., Germany and Ukraine in recent days.

Eleanor Watson and Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report. 

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