Jack Teixeira, the Air National Guard member suspected of leaking a trove of classified U.S. government documents made his first court appearance Friday to face federal espionage charges.
Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was arrested Thursday by the FBI in Dighton, Massachusetts, officials said.
Appearing before a federal magistrate judge in Boston, Teixeira did not enter a plea, and was ordered detained pending a hearing next Wednesday.
The guardsman faces two criminal charges: unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information, and unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents.
The first charge falls under the so-called Espionage Act, a statute that the U.S. Justice Department has relied on to prosecute leaks of classified information.
If convicted of the charges, Teixeria faces up to 15 years in prison.
Brendan Kelley, an attorney for Teixeira, did not respond to a request for comment.
A criminal complaint unsealed on Friday details how the documents posted by Teixeira on the online messaging platform Discord spread around the internet.
Teixeira served as the administrator of a small group on Discord, and his goal was "to discuss geopolitical affairs and current and historical wars," the complaint says, quoting another member interviewed by the FBI.
Initially, Teixeira posted photographs of notes he took from the classified documents. But he grew 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," according to the complaint.
One of the documents, the complaint says, described "the status of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, including troop movements."
According to the complaint, the material had the highest level of classification — "top secret/sensitive compartmented information," or TS/SCI.
Other documents contained highly sensitive information about how the U.S. spies on allies and adversaries, according to several news outlets that have viewed them.
A Discord user interviewed by the FBI told agents that in February he reposted a document on the internet one day after Teixeira shared it with the Discord group.
That appears to have triggered a cascade of other posts across the internet, allowing news organizations and investigators to trace the leak to Teixeira.
Teixeira, who reportedly comes from a military family, enlisted in the Air National Guard in 2019 and has been stationed at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts since May 2021, according to the complaint.
Though a junior enlisted man, he held top secret security clearance and was granted "sensitive compartmented access" to other highly classified programs, according to the complaint.
According to the Clearance Jobs website, as many as 1.3 million Americans have a top secret security clearance, a figure that critics say is shockingly too high.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, speaking at an unrelated press conference on Friday, was asked whether he was concerned the government was not properly monitoring the security clearance holders.
Garland referred the questioner to an earlier statement by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
In his statement issued on Thursday, Austin said he had ordered "a review of our intelligence access, accountability and control procedures within the Department (of Defense) to inform our efforts to prevent this kind of incident from happening again."
Teixeira's arrest on Thursday came as digital investigations conducted by The New York Times and The Washington Post identified him as the prime suspect in the case.
In a statement Thursday, the FBI said it had "aggressively pursued investigative leads" into the leak since late last week.
Teixeira's arrest "exemplifies our continued commitment to identifying, pursuing and holding accountable those who betray our country's trust and put our national security at risk," the FBI said.
The Washington Post described Teixeira as a "young, charismatic gun enthusiast" and "the elder leader" of the group of roughly two dozen gamers on Discord. He used the username "OG."
A user interviewed by The Washington Post said that while OG was not "hostile to the U.S. government," he "ranted" about the government and described the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence community as "a sinister force that sought to suppress its citizens and keep them in the dark."
As news outlets reported on the leaked documents last week, Teixeira used his government computer to search classified intelligence for the word "leak," an apparent attempt to get a clue into the government's efforts to identify the leaker, according to the complaint.
The leak alarmed U.S. officials, spawning a frenetic search for the culprit that ended with Teixeira's arrest.
In a statement, President Joe Biden praised law enforcement for quickly responding to the leak.
"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, and our national security team is closely coordinating with our partners and allies," Biden said.