How Ego Put a Country, and its Allies, at Risk
A Commentary on Jack Teixeira
Jack Teixera (Facebook)
The case of Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old Air National Guardsman charged with leaking classified documents, highlights the complexities of betrayal and the motivations that drive it.
Betrayal: A Complex Concept
Betrayal can manifest in various forms, ranging from revealing a personal secret to compromising national security. What drives a person to betray their friends, family, or country? There are several factors for why one might choose to engage in the leaking of classified documents, often explained by counterintelligence professionals with the acronym MICE, or "Money, Ideology, Compromise, and Ego".
Motivations For Espionage
Each of these elements have uniquely played a part in acts of espionage throughout history, and while people are motivated to betray their spouse, friends or country for different reasons, these reasons are ultimately informed by a person’s individual circumstances and independent dispositions.
According to Dr. Ilan Diamant, internal factors such as identity, maturity, and self-esteem play a significant role in a person's inclination towards betrayal. Those with a strong sense of identity and maturity can resist temptation, while those lacking self-esteem might turn to betrayal as a means to achieve it.
The Case of Jack Teixeira
/Jack Teixeira (U.S. Air National Guard)
In April, a major news story broke about a young man that disclosed classified information to a group of friends on a closed discord channel. He eventually took hundreds of copies of classified documents from the military base he served on. These acts were a betrayal of the trust that the Air National Guard, and the U.S. government, bestowed upon him.
The person at the center of this national scandal is Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old man that graduated from Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School in 2020.
He lived with his mother Dawn (Teixeira) Dufault, a florist, and his stepfather, Tom Dufault. Tom retired from the military after 34 years of service, at one point serving as a Master Sergeant in the same intelligence wing that Jack eventually joined.
When Jack wasn’t working, he ran an invitation-only Discord channel named "Thug Shaker Central". This channel was allegedly created during the Covid Pandemic and served as a way for young adults to socialize, bond, talk about guns, military topics, and vent. The group boasted between 20-30 members from around the world, and the name of the Discord server itself, perhaps ironically, derives from a meme taken from a gay porn video. According to its members the name is often used for its shock value and laughs.
Within his network, Teixeira was referred to as the “O.G.”, and was considered to be quite charismatic by some, with members of the group often listening to his discussions and lectures on world events.
Teixeira used various online handles on social media including “jackthedripper”, “excalibureffect” and "Tex Killed You". Teixeira would go on to use these accounts to disseminate the classified documents he had access to as Massachusetts Air National Guardsman.
Teixeira’s Motives Not Fully Understood
Why did Teixeira choose to leak intelligence and classified documents?
While money and coercion seem unlikely given the information we currently have, ideology and ego much more likely played a role. While Teixeira did openly hold a general libertarian political ideology (and broad antigovernmental sentiments), it was his desire for approval from his online peers that was the most likely motivator for his actions.
In one Washington Post article, a friend described Teixeira as “patriotic, a devout Catholic and a libertarian with an interest in guns and doubts about America’s future”. The friend said he had met Teixeira before 2020 on a Discord server mainly focused on guns and libertarian politics. They bonded over their shared interest in Glock handguns and Catholicism.
Character Witnesses Provide Insight
Interviewed classmates remember Jack as someone who made them uneasy, though not to the point of reporting him to school authorities. Sources reveal that he had an obsession with guns, war, and the military. After the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Jack appeared at school wearing a T-shirt depicting an AR-15.
In a potential foreshadowing of events to come, Jack chose the quote "Actions speak louder than words" for his yearbook. Another foreboding quote attributed to him on Steam, a video game digital distribution service, read: "Beware the quiet man. For while others speak, he watches. And while others act, he plans. And when they finally rest… he strikes."
On the site, Jack used the handle "TheExcaliburEffect," and his profile avatar featured a figure dressed in black, wielding a rifle.
Contents of the Leaked Classified Documents
Initially, he shared isolated instances of government slang, such as "NOFORN" (not releasable to foreign nationals), with his group of peers who were likely unfamiliar with these terms. This allowed Teixeira to boast about his privileged knowledge, fueling his ego. Eventually, this escalated to the removal and uploading of hundreds of classified documents to his closed-group server.
Teixeira served in the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard and was promoted to Airman 1st Class in 2022. As a Cyber Transport Systems Journeyman, he ensured the Air Force's global communications network functioned correctly. After undergoing a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI) and signing a non-disclosure agreement, Teixeira was granted top-secret security clearance.
Though not unusual for young service members to hold top-secret clearances, they receive training to prepare them for the responsibility and consequences of their actions. In his role, Teixeira had limited access to the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System (JWICS), a closed governmental intranet system for the intelligence community.
Teixeira is charged with unauthorized removal, retention, and transmission of classified national defense information and removal of classified documents, both violations of the Espionage Act. He is accused of uploading hundreds of pages of intelligence briefings into his small chat group, which could result in prison sentences of 10 and five years, respectively.
Teixeira’s Criminal Awareness
It is hard to believe that someone with a high-level security clearance, like Teixeira, would not know that removing and sharing documents with Top Secret, NOFORN, or similar designations was wrong. Despite his motivations, his actions were deliberate and continued for approximately five months, as reported by NPR News on April 14.
Teixeira's actions might not have had the international impact they did if it were not for a 17-year-old member of Thug Shakers Central named "Lucca".
Lucca, potentially unaware of the seriousness of his actions, shared several documents on the server used by popular YouTuber "wow_mao" and a public Discord group called "#War-Posting". From the Discord server, the documents spread across the internet.
Lucca's posts on the Discord channel also confirmed the anti-Semitic and derogatory nature of some comments made by Thug Shaker Central group members.
Lucca’s Discord posts explored (michaeldweiss/Twitter)
Lucca’s Discord posts explored (michaeldweiss/Twitter)
The Scope of the Leak
The leaked documents contained materials from high-level military briefings, providing insights into various aspects of the war in Ukraine. They included information about casualties, troop locations, the number of Western special operations forces in Ukraine, the number of rockets Ukraine possesses, and potential outcomes for the war. Secret satellite imagery of Russian missile strikes was also among the leaked documents.
Newsweek reported that some of the documents revealed the U.S. had warned China against providing military aid to Russia and indicated that the U.S. had likely spied on South Korea and other key allies. CNN stated that other documents exposed critical weaknesses in Ukrainian weaponry, air defense, and battalion sizes and readiness at a crucial point in the war when Ukrainian forces were preparing a counteroffensive against Russia.
The leaks also included intelligence bulletins, which are condensed news reports of relevant world events derived from various collection methods within the intelligence community. These methods include intercepted communications, satellite images, or human sources. For instance, CNN reported that some documents showed the extent to which the U.S. had infiltrated the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group.
These leaks are devastating not only because the world now knows what the United States knows, but also because it reveals how they know it. Human intelligence sources could be at increased risk as a result. The scale of the intelligence leak from the DoD to social media has prompted Pentagon officials to re-evaluate who can access briefs, as reported by CNN in April.
Determining the exact motivation behind Jack Teixeira's betrayal of his country's trust may take time. Whether it was ideology, self-interests, or ego and the desire to be admired by his young friends, the implications for U.S. security and its intelligence community might not be immediately evident.
This case could potentially prompt a reevaluation of the vetting process for service in an intelligence unit, access to classified materials, and the necessary oversight of military personnel by their superiors.
Teixeira managed to remove classified documents from a military base without detection, and according to The Boston Herald, he had access to his cell phone in secure facilities which he used to take pictures of classified material.
Teixeira has been arrested and faced charges in the documents case, with his initial court appearance expected soon.
OSINT gathering and analysis of Teixeira's conversations with peers suggest that his primary motivation was the desire for peer appreciation, ego gratification, and personal clout enhancement. While these motivators might be benign in other youth peer-to-peer groups, they had destructive potential when involving a young individual with national security responsibilities.
In conclusion, the Teixeira case is likely to have lasting implications for how superior officers delegate tasks to junior servicemembers, the training methods for junior service members in their responsibilities, and the accessibility of social media channels or other correspondence tools within the military ranks. The Teixeira case will serve as a significant case study in understanding the behavior of intelligence leakers.