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US arrests 21-year-old National Guardsman for cyber intelligence leaks

WASHINGTON: The FBI detained Jack Douglas Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the United States Air National Guard, on Thursday in connection with sensitive document leaks that embarrassed Washington and its allies across the world.

Federal officials in an armored car and military gear stormed Teixeira’s home in Dighton, Massachusetts, a primarily wooded community of 8,000 people approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Boston.

The arrest comes a week after the leaks became widely known, raising concerns in Washington about the damage they may have caused. The incident embarrassed the United States by exposing its espionage on allies and alleged Ukrainian military vulnerabilities.

The document leak, which was mostly spread over social media, was seen to be the most serious security breach since more than 700,000 documents, videos, and diplomatic cables were published on the Wikileaks website in 2010.

According to his service record, Teixeira was an airman first class at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts. In 2019, he joined the Air National Guard as a “Cyber Transport Systems Journeyman,” or IT specialist.

Teixeira was wanted, according to Attorney General Merrick Garland, “in connection with an investigation into alleged unauthorized removal, retention, and transmission of classified national defense information.”

According to the FBI, its officers carried out “authorized law enforcement activity at a residence in North Dighton, Massachusetts.”

Aerial news footage showed Teixeira walking backward toward the armored car, his wrists linked behind his head, with one officer looking from the turret. He was handcuffed and escorted to the back of the car. Garland stated that he was apprehended “without incident.”

Criminal charges are quite likely.

The Justice Department did not specify what penalties Teixeira would face, but they will almost certainly include criminal charges for knowingly storing and disseminating national defense material.

Even if Teixeira did not mean to inflict harm, Brandon Van Grack, a former Justice Department national security prosecutor now with the law firm Morrison Foerster, said the expected charges could result in up to ten years in jail.

“This is someone who is facing on the higher end of exposure for years in prison… because the leaks were so damaging,” Van Grack explained.

In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said a Pentagon task force was “working around the clock to assess and mitigate any damage.” Teixeira was scheduled to appear in court on Friday, according to a representative for the United States Attorney’s Office in Boston.

Neighbors were kept away from their homes due to a police roadblock on the way to the residence where Teixeira was arrested. Dick Treacy, for example, said he saw officers arrive as he was leaving to go shopping in the early afternoon.

“There were about six to eight army guys with rifles walking around,” Treacy recalled. “This is a very quiet area.”

Eddy Souza, 22, said he grew up nearby and knew Jack Teixeira from their time at Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School.

Souza stated that when they last spoke some years ago, Teixeira expressed no radical ideas.

“He’s a good kid, not a troublemaker, just a quiet guy,” Souza remarked of his son. “It sounds like it was a stupid kid’s mistake.”

Damage evaluation

Although the leak first became widely known after an April 6 New York Times piece, journalists have discovered evidence that the documents – or at least part of them – had been moving about on social media as early as March or even January.

The documents first appeared on the instant messaging service Discord, according to Bellingcat, the Washington Post, and The New York Times. Teixeira, who went by the handle OG in a chat room on the web, was idolized by the club’s largely teenage members, who shared a passion for guns and military gear.

The Justice Department launched a formal criminal investigation last week following a referral from the Defense Department, which described the leak as a “deliberate, criminal act.”

Reuters has reviewed more than 50 of the documents, which have been classified “Secret” and “Top Secret,” but has not independently verified their veracity. The number of documents that have been released is likely to exceed 100.

A number of countries, notably the United Kingdom, have questioned the legitimacy of some of the leaked documents, claiming “a serious level of inaccuracy” in the content.

The disclosures disclosed details about allies such as Israel, South Korea, and Turkey.

Officials in the United States believe that the majority of the materials are genuine. Some appear to have been manipulated to reflect inflated figures for Ukrainian battlefield deaths in the war with Russia, as well as downplayed numbers for Russian soldiers.

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