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‘Digileaks’ Guardsman’s arrest sparks question: What hasn’t US learned since Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden?

Jack Douglas Teixeira with Snowden and Manning

U.S. leakers from left to right: Jack Douglas Teixeira, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning (Photos via social media, Phillip Faraoane/Getty Images and Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The arrest of a young person with access to a vast tranche of U.S. national security information roils the intelligence community, scrambling to discover how all of their safeguards were circumvented.

The United States experience this drama before with the arrest of former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2009, then again after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden fled to Russia some four years later.

On Thursday, National Guardsman Jack Douglas Teixeira was arrested in a scandal whose nickname hearkened back to his alleged precursors: “Digileaks,” the disclosure of secret U.S. projections on Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine. The documents Teixeira allegedly spilled indicate that the intelligence community expected the war to grind on well into the next year, with neither country likely to take to the negotiating table, the Washington Post reported.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Teixeira’s arrest today in a statement indicating that the leaked images include classified national defense information, a description that would amount to an alleged violation of the Espionage Act.

“Today, the Justice Department arrested Jack Douglas Teixeira in connection with an investigation into alleged unauthorized removal, retention, and transmission of classified national defense information,” Garland said.

Like Manning and Snowden, Teixeira has a military or intelligence tie as a member of the Massachusetts Air Force National Guard.

FBI agents took him into custody earlier on Thursday and he is expected to appear before the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. No charges have been released as of press time.

For national security attorney Brad Moss, Teixeira’s arrest raises obvious questions.

“Did he have authorized access to all this stuff, and if so, why?” Moss asked in an interview. “What possible need did he have for all this kind of information?”

In Manning’s case, the then-22-year-old Army private had a security clearance that gave her broad access to what was known as the SIPRNet database, providing her access to hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, Iraq and Afghanistan “war logs,” and Guantanamo Bay detainee profiles.

After she transferred a virtual library of those files to WikiLeaks, the U.S. worked to tighten access to that database.

In Snowden’s case, the NSA’s internal watchdog found little movement toward securing the agency’s vulnerabilities in an audit from 2018, half a decade after the leaks.

It remains unclear how Teixeira gained access to the files that he spilled on Discord, a social media site popular with gamers.

If Teixeira accessed the information through “illicit means,” Moss said that would raise a different question: “What broke down and allowed him to be able to pull this off without anybody noticing until The New York Times [and] everybody else caught the documents on Discord?”

The Washington Post described the suspect as a “young, charismatic gun enthusiast” who went by the handle “OG.” The paper reported that “OG” was seen in one video shouting “racial and antisemitic slurs” at a shooting range while firing several rounds of his rifle at a target.

Moss noted that the intelligence community has grappled with infiltration by those with racist or white supremacist views because of the absence of a “clear vetting” process.

“They don’t really care or ask about your political views,” Moss said. “That’s not generally a relevant consideration.”

Compounding that problem, he said, recruits might be unlikely to voluntarily reveal that information.

“So there’s a limit on the ability when they’re bringing in these people, especially younger individuals, about the ability of these agencies to identify potentially troubling characteristics like this,” Moss added.

The attorney urged caution about assumptions about whether Teixeira’s views drove a pro-Russia motive until more information emerges.

“I don’t think he went into this field because his views made him want to gain access to stuff that allow him to undermine Ukraine or otherwise support Russia,” Moss said. “I think that like many young individuals, he had some rather naive and outlandish political and personal political views. But so far it appears that this was stupidity and arrogance on his part that played a role in him posting these documents in the Discord chat more than any larger, you know, pro-Russia agenda.”

The FBI didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking information about Teixeira’s alleged motive or how he access the information that he’s suspected of leaking.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."