Let's Say It Again: Everybody Spies
Washington’s latest embarrassing intelligence leak only proves the same old lessons about espionage and (not) keeping secrets
It’s happened again. Another American who was entrusted with access to highly classified U.S. Government secrets has betrayed his oath and leaked reams of intelligence to unauthorized recipients. This is an odd case that’s only starting to come into focus. However, the basics are that a young man in his early twenties with access to defense secrets, via TOP SECRET // SCI+ clearances (see this primer to understand the meaning of those arcane espionage terms), posted photos of printed-off slides from the Pentagon’s classified daily brief on a gaming website.
New reporting from the Washington Post implies that the suspect, identified only as “OG,” wasn’t exactly ideologically motivated to commit this crime, although he possessed vague anti-government, conspiratorial views. The star of the story so far is as much social media as the shadowy leaker himself, while the saga’s inclusion of black gay porn memes indicates that it all may get weirder still. Since the Washington Post all but named the suspect, and quite a few people know his identity, what’s the wait? Surely the FBI was ahead of the journalists here. While there may have been valid counterintelligence reasons to slow-roll the arrest, now that “OG” has been practically named by the media, what possible reason can there be not to arrest him?
This afternoon, the Feds got tired of waiting and finally arrested 21-year-old Airman First Class Jack Teixeira of the Massachusetts Air National Guard at his residence about an hour south of Boston. He clearly had been under scrutiny for some time. This was a full-fledged raid, complete with heavily armed agents to take the young man into custody. Attorney General Merrick Garland made a brief statement that Teixeira was arrested “in connection with an investigation into alleged unauthorized removal, retention, and transmission of classified national defense information.” That’s Justice Department boilerplate, but the bottom line is that this young man is in a world of trouble, legally speaking.
All we know so far is that Teixeira stole a bunch of highly classified DoD/IC slides and posted pictures of them online, inside his gamer group, where they very much did not belong. He reportedly did this while he was assigned to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Teixeira is said to be an IT specialist, which explains why he enjoyed access to secrets he strictly had no “need to know” as they say in the spy trade.
Big questions linger: What was Teixeira’s motivation to betray? Did he have any helpers or accomplices? Were any foreign intelligence services involved in any way? How many secrets did he steal, exactly, and where are they all now? Did any Air Guard colleagues know of his odd views? Above all, did nobody in his chain of command wonder why the low-ranking IT guy was printing off all kinds of things he really had no need to see? These weighty questions are now in the hands of counterintelligence officials from the FBI and other agencies including the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Answers will arrive, but not for some time.
For now, therefore, we wait. Still, there’s plenty to chew on already with this disaster. It’s worth asking why the U.S. Government is granting security clearances, especially top-level ones, to people who possess anti-government views of any flavor. Here the Feds seem to have learned nothing from the absolute debacle visited upon them by Edward Snowden, another misfit with anti-government views and TS/SCI access (made much worse because he, too, was an IT guy). In a few weeks, it will be a decade since Snowden made himself a global celebrity by stealing over a million classified documents from his employer, the National Security Agency, and fleeing his dulcet life in Hawaii for the colder climes of Russia.