Apr 17, 2023
Guardsman Accused of Leaking Classified Information Charged Under Espionage Act Transcript
The U.S. government charged the Air National Guardsman accused of leaking classified information with two counts under the Espionage Act. Read the transcript here.
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Geoff Bennett (00:00):
Our other top story tonight, the US government charged the Air National Guardsman accused of leaking classified information with two charges under the Espionage Act. Airman Jack Teixeira made his first appearance at Boston Court today as President Biden directed the military and intelligence community to limit the distribution of sensitive information. Nick Schifrin starts our coverage.
Nick Schifrin (00:23):
He appeared in front of a federal judge, the 21-year old who followed his family into the military, now accused of exposing the military’s secrets. Jack Teixeira joined the Air National Guard in September 2019 and was assigned to Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts and 102nd Intelligence Wing, which consolidates and analyzes intelligence for senior military commanders and receives near real-time imagery collected by drones and spy planes from around the world.
Speaker 3 (00:51):
As a cyber transport system specialist in the International Guard, your job is to make sure everybody else has the opportunity to finish their mission and save lives.
Nick Schifrin (01:01):
That’s the job Teixeira had, not an intelligence analyst, but a cyber transport systems journeyman, an IT specialist, to maintain the network. Court documents today confirmed he had a top secret clearance and sensitive compartmented access or SCI to other highly classified programs since 2021 when he was called to active duty. The documents detail how in December, Teixeira began posting the text of classified documents, but he was concerned he would be discovered. So in February, he accessed this particularly sensitive document mentioned in court filings, and one day later allegedly posted a photograph of it. Today, President Biden said the military and intelligence community would limit the distribution of sensitive information. And defense officials told PBS News Hour the joint staff was already reviewing its distribution lists. Teixeira could face decades in prison. US law says the unauthorized disclosure of top secret information reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to National Security. Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Merrick Garland (02:03):
People who sign agreements to be able to receive classified documents acknowledge the importance to the national security of not disclosing those documents. We intend to send that message how important it is to our national security.
Nick Schifrin (02:23):
Teixeira posted on Discord, a social media site popular among gamers. Today, court documents revealed Discord provided the FBI with details of Teixeira’s account and the private group he administered where he originally posted the documents. It’s a fall from Grace for a proud military family. His mother posted these photos online, and that’s his stepfather retiring in 2019 from the same Massachusetts Air National Guard Unit after a 34-year career.
Speaker X (02:52):
What do you think he was trying to accomplish here?
Nick Schifrin (02:53):
But today outside the courthouse, his father faced a media gauntlet, his son accused exposing the very information he was assigned to maintai. For the PBS News Hour, I’m Nick Schifrin.
Geoff Bennett (03:06):
So how does the US government determine who should have access to secure computer networks and the information on those networks? For that, we turned to retired special agent Frank Montoya who served 26 years in the FBI, and Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. With a welcome to you both, Frank, Jack Teixeira was a cyber transports systems journeyman, what we civilians would call an IT specialist. Help us understand how he would’ve had access to such sensitive top secret material.
Frank Montoya (03:39):
Well, just like the provost said or the young man who was presenting that information said, they’re the backbone. They’re the guys that manage the communications networks on which all of this information is stored, is transmitted, is collected. And so in that regard, he has access to that kind of information, kind of like a systems administrator, but not as many privileges perhaps, but still very much involved in the actual management and storage and transmission of that data.
Geoff Bennett (04:11):
And Heidi, Teixeira was granted a top secret security clearance in 2021. According to the federal complaint, that means he would’ve signed a lifetime binding non-disclosure agreement acknowledging that leaking protected information could result in criminal charges. Should he have had a security clearance based on the current standard and what we now know about his background?
Heidi Beirich (04:34):
Well, it really depends on whether or not the kinds of things he was posting online were inaccessible to the Pentagon to find. But if they weren’t, then he should not have had a clearance. You cannot trade in racism and anti-Semitism as he did and have clearances. And in fact, the clearance system was tightened up in the summer of 2021 to provide continuous monitoring of social media. So how he slipped through that net I think is unclear, but he really shouldn’t have.
Geoff Bennett (05:06):
Frank, is it possible for the government to continuously monitor all of the people who have security clearances to make sure that they’re living up to the standard that people with security clearances are supposed to live up to?
Frank Montoya (05:19):
Yeah, it’s a terrifically challenging task, especially when you look at the kinds of information that people have access to on a daily basis off duty as well as on duty. I mean, one of the challenges that we faced after the Snowden disclosures when we were trying to get a handle on who has information and how they handle it and how we can protect from being illegally disclosed, especially in the age of the internet and social media, was trying to develop guidelines so that we can look at continuously evaluate their accesses not only on their government systems but also when they’re at home, when they’re surfing the internet.
That’s a bigger challenge for a lot of reasons. One, because there’s so many people with clearances, but also because of First Amendment concerns. It’s important that even when you join the community and you do surrender a lot of your personal freedom or personal rights as far as access to information is concerned, you still have First Amendment rights as an American off-duty or when you’re not at work. There’s not a lot of management or control over what you might see or not see on the internet. And this is a classic example of that.
Geoff Bennett (06:29):
Heidi, I know you say that this Jack Teixeira case serves in as an example of the ways in which young people are radicalized online in that he is in many ways typical of the people that you track. In what ways?
Heidi Beirich (06:42):
Yeah, I mean a young male involved in gaming culture, he was posting this on a private server on the Discord system, which is used by gamers. He apparently was using this classified material to show off to his friends there who were very young, some of them teenagers. And that’s where they were trading in racist memes and posting all kinds of things about guns and so on. This unfortunately is very typical. We have a lot of young people getting radicalized in this way.
Geoff Bennett (07:11):
Frank, this trove of leaked Pentagon documents, they were circulating apparently online for months without it being discovered by the US government. Why didn’t the federal government notice the leaked documents until it was apparent in the news media?
Frank Montoya (07:28):
Yeah, I mean this is kind of an old school espionage kind of thing. I’m not saying that he committed espionage. The charges are about unlawful retention and removal of classified information, but he was looking at it at the work site and then he was taking notes and then writing stuff down and then later he was taking out specific documents out of the workspace and taking them home or photographing them. And I would imagine returning them back to the workspace so that it was harder to track how that kind of stuff is monitored. Or it’s harder to monitor things that way because the emphasis is looking on the computer networks, the digital trails, what you’re looking at downloading, maybe printing out on your printer or on a copy machine. This was stuff that he had access to, that he could look at in hard copy. And then was, again, smuggling it out of the workspace, taking photos at home and then bringing it back.
And so much more, like I said, old school in the way that he was doing it and harder to monitor, because was the workspace doing bag checks at the end of the day? Probably not because of concerns about First Amendment rights again and personal freedoms. And so yeah, very difficult to monitor this kind of activity. And then he’s posting it on these close hold internet, social media networks, platforms where only a small group of people know about it. And in fact, if that one individual hadn’t posted it on other sites, we still probably wouldn’t know about it.
Geoff Bennett (09:02):
Heidi, all of this speaks to the question of how can the US better defend against the insider threat?
Heidi Beirich (09:11):
Well, that’s exactly right. The insider threat is the issue here. And I think if we don’t get a hold better on what’s happening on social media and enforce the new rules that were actually put in place on this front a couple summers ago, we may find this again. And I’d just like to add that extremists, people with racist and anti-Semitic beliefs and so on, they are particular threat when it comes to insider threats. And that’s what we’ve seen in this case and it’s what we have to be worried about in terms of domestic extremists being in the military.
Geoff Bennett (09:42):
Heidi Beirich is co-founder of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, and Frank Montoya is a retired FBI special agent. My thanks to you both.
Frank Montoya (09:51):
Heidi Beirich (09:51):