A Massachusetts Air National Guardsman has been arrested after the leak of classified information that has already had consequences for the Ukraine war and the United States’s relationship with critical allies, including Egypt, Israel, and South Korea.
But while the suspected source of the leak, 21-year-old intelligence information technology officer and gamer Jack Teixeira, has been identified, the national security and political implications of his actions for President Joe Biden are only now being understood.
Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Mick Mulroy excoriated Teixeira’s alleged leak for threatening national security by undermining the country’s collection of intelligence.
“It is bad enough that our adversaries know what we know, or at least in part,” Mulroy told the Washington Examiner. “It is really bad if our adversaries know how we know it. That goes to our sources and methods. They will review what documents are out there and use that to launch their own counterintelligence operations.”
Teixeira reportedly started sharing photos of classified information in a pandemic-era online chatroom he led on the Discord social media website that is popular with gamers months ago before they were found on other platforms and located by the Biden administration last week. And his leak has caused “substantive damage” to Ukraine by disclosing secret U.S. assessments of Ukraine’s capabilities and how the U.S. has compromised Russia‘s communication channels, according to American Enterprise Institute foreign policy senior fellow Dalibor Rohac.
“Our allies, such as Korea, which has been helping Ukraine discreetly, may not appreciate being suddenly in the public spotlight,” Rohac said. “The main political damage has not materialized yet, but it will if Ukraine’s efforts indeed fail to make significant advances in the coming weeks and months, as the documents seem to suggest.”
The leak, discovered months after Biden became embroiled in his own classified information scandal, coincides with a pivotal period in the Ukraine war and for public support of the conflict as the president seeks to restore the country’s reputation abroad after former President Donald Trump‘s more contentious relationships with many international leaders.
“The main question is whether the administration can help change conditions on the ground in Ukraine to ensure that Ukrainians can liberate their country by providing them with more long-range artillery, fighter jets, [and] tanks,” Rohac added. “We definitely have the means to change [the] picture painted by the leaks; the question is one of political will — and the stakes just got higher for Biden.”
Former deputy national security adviser Victoria Coates offered a different perspective, asking what the U.S. is doing in Ukraine if current decisions are “perpetuating a stalemate.”
“Especially because [Biden’s] stated policies, best we can divine, is ‘As much as it takes, as long as it takes,”’ she said. “Clearly, if these documents [are] accurate, they’re not doing as much as it takes. And so I think every American taxpayer should be saying, the American people support Ukrainians, they want you to push back on Putin’s aggression, but what’s happening here, I think, is a very legitimate question.”
Meanwhile, Michael O’Hanlon, Brookings Institution foreign policy research director, believes the leak will likely “be subsumed by larger forces and trends in the war sooner rather than later.”
“But it’s too soon to be sure,” he said.
As the Department of Defense continues its investigation into the leak and the Department of Justice and FBI prepare for Teixeira’s first court appearance on Friday in Boston, Mulroy called for a review into “how we store classified info,” “how people can access it,” and “how many.”
“There are electronic devices that are more secure,” the Vandenberg Coalition advisory board member said. “They can erase themselves on a time designated and/or on a geofence if someone tries to remove them. Printed copies of classified information are very difficult to track and allow this individual or individuals to do what he did.”
Heritage Foundation Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy Vice President James Carafano noted leakers have tended to be “ideologues,” people who have “a grudge,” or people who “want money.” And while Teixeira apparently had complained of government overreach, initial reports indicate he was also grandstanding to his friends.
“This kid’s doing this because he thinks this kind of behavior is OK,” Carafano said. “And that is, I think, way, way scarier. Our system is designed to stop people who are malicious, not people who are too stupid enough to know that what they’re doing is incredibly risky.”
Carafano additionally recommended improving the management of classified information and making sure people with sensitive documents “act responsibly,” as opposed to encouraging the Pentagon and intelligence community to monitor social media more.
Biden has been briefed on Teixeira’s arrest but hours earlier seemed to downplay the leak to reporters, who traveled with him to Northern Ireland and Ireland.
“I’m not worried about the leak, but I’m concerned that it happened,” he said in Dublin. “But I don’t know anything there that would be of great importance.”