Earlier this morning Jack Teixeira, a 21 year old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was charged with two counts under §793 of the Espionage Act for unlawfully obtaining and communicating national defense information. Additionally, Teixeira was charged under a separate statute prohibiting the unauthorized retention and communication of classified documents or material. Teixiera is alleged to have been the source of a series of leaks about the Russian-Ukrainian War and US spying on its allies. These leaks were initially posted on obscure parts of the internet, but were picked up by The New York Times and other news outlets for a series of scoops that were clearly in the public interest. Initially, unnamed government officials anonymously told media sources that the documents were likely the products of Russian intelligence. However, a series of reports based on people who purported to know the leaker began asserting otherwise. Shortly after Teixeira was identified as the likely source of the leaks by the New York Times and Bellingcat, he was arrested. Teixeira, like all criminal defendants, has a constitutional presumption of innocence. It is the government’s burden to prove he was behind these leaks.
Defending Rights & Dissent is avoiding a rush to judgment on Teixeira’s guilt or innocence and his potential motivations, but early reporting has painted a particular picture of Teixeira. Far from hoping to produce journalistic output, according to multiple reports, Teixeira shared the information with a closed Discord server dedicated to discussing video games. Teixeira purportedly either sought to inform the other members or impress them with the fact he was privy to secrets. Many members of this Discord were teenagers who appeared to admire Teixeira. One member of the Discord reposted the information to yet another video game Discord, after which point it made its way to Telegram channels. At this point The New York Times and other journalists became aware of its existence. If Teixeira is indeed the source of the leaks and early reporting is accurate, then it would appear he is neither a spy nor a whistleblower.
Section 793 of the Espionage Act makes no distinction between those who give information to the media to expose wrongdoing or spark public debate, someone who shares information to impress friends and acquaintances, or spies. Under the Espionage Act, the intent of the accused, their motivations, or whether the disclosure caused harm are irrelevant. As a result, this overly broad law has been used to silence journalists, their sources, and whistleblowers. Based on information currently available that does not appear to be the case here, but Defending Rights & Dissent remains steadfastly opposed to any use of the Espionage Act where the government does not intend to prove the accused acted with the specific intent to damage US national security.
We also note with all unauthorized disclosures of classified information the US government makes apocalyptic pronouncements about the ramifications of the disclosure. Oftentimes, these pronouncements turn out to be demagogic falsehoods. Claims that these disclosures, which largely came to light to the general public after they served as a basis for reporting in the mainstream media, caused harm should be treated with extreme skepticism by members of the media.
Defending Rights & Dissent will continue to monitor this case as it develops.