At the Air National Guard base on Cape Cod where Jack Teixeira worked until his arrest by federal officials Thursday, flying fighter jets used to be a key mission. But for the past 16 years, the focus has shifted to gathering military intelligence.
That put 21-year-old Teixeira, an airman first class, in the arena of closely guarded information from the get-go, when he enlisted in 2019. Two years later, he held a top-secret security clearance, according to an FBI affidavit filed in federal court in Boston Friday, alleging Teixeira leaked highly classified military documents on social media.
“To acquire his security clearance, Teixeira would have signed a lifetime binding non-disclosure agreement,” FBI special agent Patrick Lueckenhoff wrote in the affidavit.
Teixeira was part of the 102nd Intelligence Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base near Mashpee, part of Joint Base Cape Cod. The wing employs about 1,200 military personnel, according to a spokesman. The unit’s stated mission is to provide “worldwide precision intelligence and command and control,” as well as personnel for “expeditionary combat support and homeland security.”
The secret work of reviewing intelligence data and analyzing videos and photos of foreign locations is something the public doesn’t see. When the National Guard is in action around the state, it’s often to respond to natural disasters, storms and civil unrest. Former Gov. Charlie Baker even deployed the guard to help administer COVID vaccinations at the height of the pandemic.
But that’s only about a quarter of the work the National Guard does, according to L. Scott Rice, a retired three-star general in the Air Force who oversaw all national guard units across the country, including the 102nd intelligence unit. The bulk of the work is for the federal government, and related to overseas military operations, he said.
It’s not yet known how Teixeira, who held the title cyber defense operations journeyman, allegedly got the documents and shared them in an online group. But Rice said the military routinely trusts young enlisted members with deadly weapons and top-secret information.
“It’s a highly responsible job we give to our youth. And most of the time — all the time, in fact — they perform accordingly,” Rice said. “Every once in a while we have a gap. And seeing that is devastating, deadly and very, very sad.”
The document leak exposed vulnerabilities in Ukraine’s air defense and included other sensitive intelligence on Russia and South Korea that embarrassed the Biden administration.
“How on earth did somebody at his level have access to this type of intelligence?”
Calder Walton, a historian and author at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said the leak raises new questions about how the U.S. military guards its intelligence.
“How on earth did somebody at his level have access to this type of intelligence?” Walton asked. He suggested that a key issue is how younger generations interact with technology, compared with their superiors in the military.
“We expect young people to go and fight the wars for us,” he said, so they need access to strong intelligence. “But there also needs to be a sort of sanity check — on just the breadth of the dissemination of intelligence and who’s getting it.”
Walton said Teixeira appears to have been motivated by ego, and impressing friends, in breaking the National Guard’s rules on top-secret information.
The New York Times identified Teixeira as the alleged leaker just before the FBI arrested him in his hometown of Dighton on Thursday. In its complaint, the federal government alleges that Teixeira started posting classified information in December on a social media platform, identified in published reports as Discord.
He appeared in federal court Friday and is being held until a detention hearing next week. He has not yet entered a plea. A court-appointed defense lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.
Officials at the 102nd Intelligence Wing did not respond to WBUR’s request for an interview; the Massachusetts National Guard declined an interview request.