‘How on earth?’: Questions swirl around suspected US leaker

US lawmakers question why 21-year-old suspect Jack Teixeira had such wide access to sensitive Pentagon information.

Washington, DC – The suspected leaker of secret Pentagon documents does not appear to be connected to a foreign adversary of the United States, nor was he a whistleblower trying to expose perceived government misconduct.

Rather, 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, who served in the Massachusetts Air Force National Guard, has been accused of sharing the information with members of a social media server to “discuss geopolitical affairs and current and historical wars”, the FBI said in a court document on Friday.

As Teixeira faced formal charges in a US federal court, his arrest has continued to raise widespread questions as to why such a young official had access to so many sensitive files meant for top military officials.

“How on earth does a 21 year old gamer junior airman have this much access to classified intelligence?” US legislator Adriano Espaillat wrote in a tweet.

US authorities said they arrested Teixeira, who worked as an IT official with the National Guard, on Thursday after linking a social media account that was posting the classified documents to his address in Massachusetts.

The FBI affidavit said the social media user was posting paragraphs of text showing what “appeared to be classified information” around December 2022. The user then started publishing photos of the purported documents around January.

The poster, believed to be Teixeira, told a witness that he “had become concerned that he may be discovered making the transcriptions of text in the workplace, so he began taking the documents to his residence and photographing them”, the FBI document reads.

The leaked files included details of Western military support to Ukraine, information about Russia’s war effort and intelligence collected from allied states.

Experts have said the “damaging” leaks risk exposing US intelligence sources and causing a diplomatic rift with countries mentioned in the documents.

The Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Turner, said in a statement this week that the panel would “examine why this happened, why it went unnoticed for weeks, and how to prevent future leaks”.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden – whose administration has sought to stem the fallout of the leaked documents – praised what he called the “rapid action” of US law enforcement agencies to investigate what took place.

“While we are still determining the validity of those documents, I have directed our military and intelligence community to take steps to further secure and limit distribution of sensitive information,” Biden said in a statement on Friday.

“And our national security team is closely coordinating with our partners and allies.”

Questions continue

Still, Teixeira’s arrest does not appear to be the end of the discussion. Many lawmakers are demanding answers about how the leaks happened.

French Hill, a Republican on the House intelligence panel, said the leaks will be “top of mind” for the committee next week.

He told Bloomberg that he expects a detailed briefing to help with the “oversight investigation of just why this 21-year-old Air National Guardsman had access to this level of data, and why he felt compelled to break the law and become a spy”.

Republican Congressman Darrell Issa also questioned why Teixeira was able to obtain secret documents.

“One of the challenges is that there’s a concept in classified information called ‘need to know’, and they haven’t demonstrated why this individual had access to something that he didn’t have a need to know,” Issa told Fox News on Friday.

According to the FBI affidavit, Teixeira had a “Top Secret” security clearance and “maintained sensitive compartmented (SCI) access”, which were required for his position as a cyber defense operations journeyman. SCI refers to classified information obtained from intelligence sources.

On Thursday, Pentagon spokesperson Pat Ryder said the department entrusted its members “with a lot of responsibility at a very early age”.

“Think about a young combat platoon sergeant and the responsibility and trust that we put into those individuals to lead troops into combat. That’s just one example across the board,” he told reporters.

“So you receive training and you will receive an understanding of the rules and requirements that come along with those responsibilities.”

He added that when it comes to secret documents, respecting such responsibilities is also “about the law”.

But Democratic Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer who also sits on the House intelligence committee, said she looked forward to asking “aggressive questions” about how the leaks happened.

“The idea that he would have access to such a broad array of information and be able to exit a building with it is absolutely outrageous to me,” Spanberger told MSNBC.

Source: Al Jazeera