Suspected Pentagon leaker pleads not guilty to federal charges

Former National Guardsman faces allegations that he leaked numerous classified national security documents online.

A courtroom sketch of Teixeira and his lawyers
A courtroom sketch depicts Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira, seated second from right, in a US district court in Boston on April 19 [File: Margaret Small via AP]

The United States Air National Guardsman suspected of leaking classified national security documents on social media has entered a not-guilty plea to federal felony charges.

Jack Teixeira, 21, appeared before a federal court in Worcester, Massachusetts, on Wednesday, several days after he was indicted by a grand jury on six counts of willful retention and transmission of national defence information.

Standing next to his lawyers in an orange prison uniform, Teixeira responded, “Not guilty, your honour,” as the judge read out the charges against him. A trial date has yet to be set.

Teixeira is accused of posting photos and transcribed copies of sensitive material on the social media forum Discord, revealing national security intelligence related to the war in Ukraine and other military interests.

After the leak and Teixeira’s arrest in April, the Biden administration rushed to assure allies that the US is able to safeguard its national security secrets.

Teixeira is being held in a federal prison in Plymouth County, south of Boston, as he awaits trial. A judge denied a bid by defence lawyers to reconsider the suspect’s detention order.

“The important thing is Jack will now have his day in court,” his family said in a statement on Wednesday. “We are hopeful that Jack will be getting the fair and just treatment he deserves.”

Investigators believe that the young man was the leader of a private Discord chat group titled Thug Shaker Central, where members shared jokes, their favourite types of guns and views on international conflicts.

The justice department has also said that Teixeira had a history of disturbing comments online. In November, for example, he posted that he would like to see a large number of people killed in a “culling of the weak-minded”.

Authorities say that Teixeira, who worked as a military IT specialist of sorts, began sharing military secrets with the group in January.

Questions have been raised about how the government confers security status to personnel — and why Teixeira was able to access such sensitive materials. Memos filed in court show that Teixeira had been reprimanded on several occasions for mishandling or improperly viewing classified material.

In a statement released last week, US Attorney General Merrick Garland said Teixeira had been given access to information that “reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security if shared”.

Each count Teixeira faces comes with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, meaning that he could face a maximum of 60 years in prison.

The US government has a history of zealously pursuing those who share national security secrets, even if they are deemed to be of public value or expose government wrongdoing.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies