WASHINGTON (AP) — Finding the suspect is relatively easy.
In a world of social media that creates traceable digital fingerprints, it didn’t take long for federal officials and journalists adept at digging into the data to get Jack Teixeira’s name.
Teixeira, 21, who served in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was arrested Thursday in connection with the leak of classified documents. It has shaken capitals from Washington to Kiev to Seoul. Revelations of spying on US allies and adversaries and the disclosure of critical military intelligence about the war in Ukraine.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Teixeira will be charged with unauthorized removal of national security information.
The clues were in messages posted in a chat room on Discord, the social media site where Teixeira is believed to have posted over the years about guns, games and his favorite memes — and some who chatted with him, closely guarded US secrets.
Investigative website Bellingate and The New York Times First publicly identified Teixeira, minutes before federal officials confirmed he was a person of interest in the investigation. They said they were monitoring profiles on other obscure sites linked to Teixeira.
The suspect allegedly had access to highly classified information as part of his duties.
The case underscores the challenges the U.S. and other governments face in keeping secrets in an era of ubiquitous data and an ever-growing army of savvy users figuring out how to exploit it.
When asked how such a young service member could have access to such sensitive documents, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said it’s the nature of the military to trust its young service members with high and sometimes large levels of responsibility, including high-level security clearances.
A generation of soldiers graduating from high school went to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan and other war zones.
“We entrust our members with a lot of responsibility at an early age. Think of a young platoon sergeant and the trust and responsibility we place in those individuals to lead troops into battle,” Ryder said.
In previous Associated Press stories, the leaker was identified as “OG” by a member of an online chat group where Teixeira and others have posted over the years. A member of the chat group declined to give his name to the AP, citing concerns for his personal safety.
A chat group called “Thug Shaker Central” attracted about two dozen enthusiasts who talked about their favorite types of guns and shared memes and jokes, some of them racist. The panel also featured a discussion of wars, including talk of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In that discussion, “OG” would post what he said was classified for months — first typing it up with his own notes, then switching to posting pictures of folded papers a few months ago because he felt his writing was missing. Being taken seriously, the person said.
Another participant in the group shared some of the files in another chat group several weeks ago – from where they seem to have spread across the internet.
The person who spoke to the AP said he had not been in contact with Teixeira on Thursday but had been in touch earlier in the week. Teixeira told him the FBI was looking for him, the person said.
According to Facebook posts from the 102nd Intelligence Wing based at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, Teixeira is an Airman first class detailed to the Air Force Intelligence Wing.
Teixeira’s specialty at Air National Guard is a “cyber transport systems specialist,” essentially an IT specialist responsible for military communications networks, including cabling and hubs. Teixeira would have had a higher level of security clearance in that role because he would have been responsible for accessing the network and ensuring security, a security official told the AP.
The National Guard released a statement saying it was aware of the investigation and “takes this matter very seriously.”
“National security is our number one priority and any attempt to undermine it compromises our values and undermines trust among our members, the public, allies and partners,” the statement said.
On Thursday local police blocked off the street in front of the house listed as belonging to his family.
The man who spoke to the AP says “OG” — who he admitted was Jupiter Teixeira — was an observant Christian who often talked about God and prayed with members of the chat group.
When he enlisted, Teixeira opposed many of the U.S. government’s priorities and denounced the military, “which was run by elite politicians,” the person said. .
“He regretted joining a lot,” the person said. “He even said he’d kick my ass if I wanted to join.”
But the person insisted he did not believe Teixeira leaked the documents to undermine the US government or for ideological reasons.
When the New York Times first published a story about the documents last week, the person said, members of the group were on a video call when “OG” spoke to them.
“Basically what he said was, ‘I’m sorry, guys, I prayed every day that this wouldn’t happen,'” the person said. “‘I’ve prayed, I’ve prayed, God knows what happens next'”
Associated Press writer Tara Copp contributed to this report.
“Lifelong social media lover. Falls down a lot. Creator. Devoted food aficionado. Explorer. Typical troublemaker.”