The person responsible for leaking top secret US documents including Ukraine War plans that ended up on a Minecraft-related Discord server has been identified as Jack Teixeira, who according to The New York Times is a 21-year-old member of the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. Teixeira was arrested earlier today, and is now in the custody of the FBI.
Teixeira allegedly shared the documents with members of his own Discord server, called Thug Shaker Central, a group of between 20 and 30 members who initially came together over shared interests in “guns, racist online memes, and videogames.” Most of the members of the group were teenagers, according to the report, who looked up to Teixeira as their leader.
BREAKING: Sky 5 was overhead as federal agents swarmed a Mass. home and detained a man amid the probe into leaked classified documents about the Ukraine war. https://t.co/5FCrFgz3QZ pic.twitter.com/cwdp4yWJLKApril 13, 2023
Interestingly, the Times report says secret documents were first uploaded to the Thug Shaker Central server “months ago,” accompanied by lectures on the importance of staying aware of world events. They didn’t come to more widespread light until another member of the group posted a bunch of them to a different, more public forum; from there, as we learned last week, they ended up on Russian-language Telegram channels, 4chan, and a Minecraft Discord server.
One of the members of Thug Shaker Central, a 17-year-old who recently graduated from high school, told the Times that Teixeira wasn’t trying to be a whistleblower, and that the documents he shared in Discord weren’t meant to go any further. “This guy was a Christian, anti-war, just wanted to inform some of his friends about what’s going on,” he said. “We have some people in our group who are in Ukraine. We like fighting games, we like war games.”
Teenage boys generally aren’t great when it comes to maintaining operational security and that’s clearly the situation here. But one of the investigators on the case said Teixeira gave himself away through his Steam profile—it led to an Instagram account with photos that the investigation team was able to match to the location the leaked documents were photographed before being uploaded.
(According to Bellingcat researcher Aric Toler, one of the first to report on the leak last week, Teixeira’s Steam account included “lots of Arma 3, Zomboid, [PUBG], CS, HOI4, Garry’s Mod.”)
There are still a lot of questions to be answered, not least of which is how a 21-year-old National Guard staffer could gain access to so much top secret information in the first place. One official told the Times that members of the government with sufficiently high security clearance often receive classified documents in daily emails, and they might be automatically forwarded to other people—although that’s probably not a list that someone in Teixeira’s position should be in.
The incident stands in stark contrast to recent remarks by Microsoft president Brad Smith, who during a recent Semafor World Economy Summit warned of “efforts by the Russians to basically penetrate some of these gaming communities.” It seems like the more pressing threat, if you’re a US national security type, might not be Russians, but loose rules, sloppy management, and disaffected folks on the home front.
For the moment, a July 2022 photo congratulating Teixeira on his recent promotion to Airman First Class remains posted on the 102nd Intelligence Wing’s Facebook page.
“We are aware that law enforcement officials have arrested the individual accused of illegally posting classified material on our platform,” a Discord spokesperson said in a statement sent to PC Gamer. “We have cooperated with officials and remain committed to doing so as this investigation continues. While Discord places a premium on the privacy of our users, we believe that our platform best serves the needs of all when we collectively engage in responsible online behavior. Our Terms of Service expressly prohibit using Discord for illegal or criminal purposes, which includes the sharing of documents on Discord that may be verifiably classified.
“When Discord’s Trust and Safety team learns of violative content, we act quickly to remove it. In this instance, we have banned users involved with the original distribution of the materials, deleted content deemed to be against our Terms, and issued warnings to users who continue to share the materials in question.”