Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts National Guard, has made his first appearance in United States court after he was arrested in connection with a leak of classified Pentagon documents that has roiled US authorities.
Teixeira appeared on Friday in federal court in Boston, Massachusetts, a day after FBI agents descended on his family home in the small town of Dighton, about 30km (18 miles) east of Providence, Rhode Island.
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He was charged with retention and transmission of national defence information and willful retention of classified documents. The criminal offences could carry up to 15 years in prison, according to The Washington Post.
The federal judge ordered Teixeira to remain in jail. He did not enter a plea.
Court documents unsealed on Friday showed the FBI had used billing information from Discord, a social media app, to identify Teixeira, confirming earlier US media reports that investigators believed him to be the leader of the chat group where the documents were first posted online.
Following his arrest on Thursday, US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Teixeira had been arrested for the “alleged unauthorised removal, retention and transmission of classified national defence information”.
The FBI court documents said Teixeira had had top secret security clearance, as well as another form of clearance to access information related to some “highly classified programs” since 2021.
The Air Force later said Teixeira joined the Air National Guard in September 2019. His official job title was “cyber transport systems journeyman”, a role tasked with maintaining the underlying infrastructure of the Air Force’s “vast, global communications network”.
‘A lot of questions’
The leaked classified documents at the heart of the investigation were posted online in March and perhaps earlier, but were not widely reported in US media until last week.
Reporting from Washington, DC, on Friday, Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett said the arrest has raised “a lot of questions” about how the relatively low-ranking intelligence official was able to disseminate the information.
“Now, when you have a top-secret security clearance in the United States, it is not unusual to be able to have this kind of access,” she said. “But it does give you a large swath of information.”
In the court documents unsealed on Friday, investigators said that Teixeira was detected searching for the word “leak” in a classified system on April 6 – the day the New York Times first reported on the documents.
The FBI said that was reason to believe Teixeira was trying to find information about the investigation into who was responsible for the leaks.
US media has reported that the Discord group Teixeira led was formed in 2020 and focused heavily on gaming, guns and religion.
A person familiar with the intelligence posts told the FBI on Monday that the username linked to Teixeira began posting what appeared to be classified information roughly in December.
The affidavit said Teixeira initially transcribed documents in his possession to taking them home and photographing them because he “had become concerned that he may be discovered making the transcriptions of text in the workplace”.
The Bellingcat investigative website has said those photos began to be posted in March, if not earlier.
The leak has roiled the administration of US President Joe Biden, with Pentagon officials saying they were reviewing their policies as they continued to investigate the scale and scope of what had been released.
Authorities have also repeatedly warned that at least some of the documents appear to have been doctored, and may be being used in disinformation campaigns by various actors.
The wide-ranging documents contained US assessments of the war in Ukraine, painting a grim picture that the fighting would likely stretch beyond 2023 and that Kyiv’s air defence faced looming shortages.
The intelligence also appeared to show the extent of US spying on some allies.
Among the apparent revelations, some of the leaked documents appeared to show that Egypt planned to sell weapons to Russia in a deal it intended to keep secret from the US. A senior Egyptian official has denied the report.
Another document seemingly showed that Russian operatives were building a closer relationship with the United Arab Emirates, while a third indicated that South Korean leaders were hesitant to ship artillery shells to Ukraine.
On Thursday, Department of Defense spokesperson Pat Ryder said his agency would not address specifics of the leaked documents as they had not been officially declassified.