By Nicole Trinkl
Hundreds of leaked Pentagon documents containing U.S. intelligence information, including highly classified details on the war in Ukraine, have been circulating the internet on different social media platforms over the last few weeks. On April 13, 21-year-old U.S. air national guardsman, Jack Douglas Teixeira, was identified as the sole suspect in leaking these documents and was taken into custody by the FBI.
According to the New York Times, the leaked documents reveal sensitive information about the Russia-Ukraine War that could affect Ukraine's war efforts. The documents expose secret plans by the United States and NATO to build up Ukraine's military and detail the true state Ukraine's forces are in, revealing the possibility of Ukraine's air defense system collapsing. One document even detailed hypothetical scenarios that discuss what would happen in the event of the deaths of President Vladimir Putin or President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as what would happen if the leadership within Russia was removed and Ukraine struck Russia.
Although it is hard to declare the validity of the documents for they are highly classified and are not meant to be authenticated, the leaked documents do seem to be authentic for the most part. However, some officials allege that some documents have been doctored, for example, in exaggerating the number of Ukrainian deaths in the war and understating the number of Russian troops killed.
Most concerning of all, the leaks also confirm that the United States spies in other countries and reveals sensitive briefing information on countries like Canada, China, Israel, South Korea, the Indo-Pacific military theater and the Middle East; this could be detrimental to the coalitions the United States formed with other countries. Other countries could become more distrustful of the United States, possibly leading allies to rethink with whom they will share sensitive information.
One document revealed that a Russian fighter aircraft shot a missile at a British surveillance plane over the Black Sea in September. The missile never hit the aircraft due to a munition malfunction. If the aircraft had been hit by the Russian fighter jet, that could have been a means by which a war could have broken out.
Another document revealed why U.S. officials believed China was close to providing weapons to Russia. Intercepted communication from the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service indicates that China’s Central Military Commission approved sending aid to Russia. China wanted to keep its transactions with Russia secret.
These are just a few of the details the leaked documents reveal about other countries.
It is still unclear why Teixeira had access to these classified documents in the first place. Teixeira is said to have led an online gamer group chat on Discord in which some of the documents first appeared. The documents seem to have been photographs of the original briefing reports. The documents first started spreading on Twitter, 4chan and Telegraph after having been sitting on Discord since early March.
According to NPR, Teixeira had worked in the Intelligence Wing at Otis Air Force Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, since May 2022. He was a cyber transports systems journeyman for the National Guard. His job was to provide intelligence information for combat support and homeland security.
Teixeira was granted "top secret security clearance" in 2021, allowing him access to see all classified documents. In getting "top secret security clearance," he likely would have had to sign a non-disclosure agreement. It has been revealed that Teixeira released classified information as early as December of 2022 via text transcriptions onto different social media platforms. He later started taking photographs of the documents.
As a result of the event of the leaks, the Pentagon is starting to reevaluate who should get access to highly classified intelligence information. During a press hearing, General Patrick Ryder, Pentagon Press Secretary, explained that there are guidelines in place that safeguard classified information from being stolen, including examining who is getting access to intelligence information and assessing what information is being shared. Those guideless clearly didn’t stop Teixeira from leaking highly sensitive information. General Ryder referred to Teixeira's actions as "a deliberate criminal act."
Thomas Rid, political scientist and professor at John Hopkin University School of Advanced International Relations, referred to the leaked documents as "one of the most damaging intelligence leaks this century so far."
It is unclear what the consequences of these leaked documents will be. With the ongoing war in Ukraine and countries forming alliances and coalitions, these leaks could alter countries' attitudes toward one another and make countries distrustful of each other.
Teixeira was charged with two offenses in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts on April 14. The charges include Unauthorized Retention and Transmission of National Defense Information and Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Material. The Justice Department has clarified that the investigation is ongoing, and more information will be shared.