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Pentagon super-leak suspect cuffed: 21-year-old Air National Guardsman

The FBI has detained a 21-year-old Air National Guardsman suspected of leaking a trove of classified Pentagon documents on Discord.

In the past few minutes, US Attorney General Merrick Garland confirmed the arrest, saying Jack Douglas Teixeira of the United States Air Force National Guard in Massachusetts was nabbed earlier today.

The suspect was being held “in connection with an investigation into alleged unauthorized removal, retention, and transmission of classified national defense information,” the AG said.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that whoever leaked the files was thought to be a twenty-something American who liked gaming and guns, and worked on a military base. He also controlled a private Discord server, and allegedly posted photographs of the classified Pentagon documents to impress the private group’s 25 members, which included netizens in Europe, Asia, and South America.

It’s believed those classified files were shared beyond that Discord chat, and surfaced in one form or another on social media, where it spread like wildfire. The documents were said to be war plans detailing secret US and NATO support for a Ukrainian offensive to regain land invaded by Russia, and that American and British special forces were already in Ukraine.

During a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder declined to comment on the FBI’s criminal investigation.

“We are aware of the press reports regarding a potential suspect in the Department of Justice’s ongoing investigation into unauthorized disclosures of documents appearing to emanate from throughout the intelligence community,” Ryder said. He referred questions to the US Department of Justice, which declined to comment further.

Ryder did add that the Pentagon has “stringent guidelines in place for safeguarding classified and sensitive information,” and that the US Department of Defense has since tightened those guidelines to prevent additional leaks.

“This was a deliberate criminal act, a violation of those guidelines,” Ryder said. That is to say, in Uncle Sam’s eyes, this wasn’t a whistleblowing act.

US President Joe Biden addressed the leak earlier in the day from Dublin, where he was meeting the Irish president, and said his federal agents were “close” to making an arrest.

Biden, when asked if he was concerned about the alleged military plans being posted on social media last week, said:  “I’m not concerned about the leak. I’m concerned that it happened, but there’s nothing contemporaneous that I’m aware of that is of any consequence.”

Since the sensitive documents surfaced on social media, military and security analysts have questioned their legitimacy. If the files really did come from some Discord chat, filtering through 4chan and Telegram and into wider public view, it appears someone along the way modified the documents to, among other things, overstate supposed American estimates of Ukrainians killed, and understating Russian deaths. The files may have been altered by pro-Kremlin volunteers if not Russian agents themselves.

“I do believe it is an example of hybrid warfare meant to shake the faith of the Ukrainian population,” Tom Kellermann told The Register in an earlier interview. Kellermann is senior veep of cyber strategy at Contrast Security, and he has also held cybersecurity-related posts in the US government. ®