Military Caught Airman Mishandling Secrets Before Arrest but Left Him in Job

Air Force officials caught Airman Jack Teixeira taking notes and conducting deep-dive searches for classified material months before he was charged with leaking a vast trove of government secrets, but did not remove him from his job, according to a Justice Department filing on Wednesday.

On two occasions in September and October 2022, Airman Teixeira’s superiors in the Massachusetts Air National Guard admonished him after reports that he had taken “concerning actions” while handling classified information. Those included stuffing a note into his pocket after reviewing secret information inside his unit, according to a court filing ahead of a hearing before a federal magistrate judge in Worcester, Mass., on Friday to determine whether he should be released on bail.

Airman Teixeira — who until March shared secrets with scores of online friends from around the world on Discord, a social media platform popular with gamers — “was instructed to no longer take notes in any form on classified intelligence information,” lawyers with the department’s national security division wrote in an 11-page memo arguing for his indefinite detention.

The airman’s superiors also ordered him to “cease and desist on any deep dives into classified intelligence information,” although it is not clear how, or if, they enforced that directive.

The new information was intended to drive home the government’s argument that Airman Teixeira’s relentless quest for intelligence to share with online friends — which he acknowledged to be improper — makes his release a danger to national security. But it also raised troubling new questions about whether the military missed opportunities to stop or limit one of the most damaging intelligence leaks in recent history.

The signs that something was amiss seem unmistakable in retrospect. In late January, a master sergeant who was working at the Air Force base on Cape Cod in Massachusetts observed Airman Teixeira inappropriately accessing reports on the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communication System, the Pentagon’s secure intranet system, the memo said.

“Teixeira had been previously been notified to focus on his own career duties and not to seek out intelligence products,” one of his superiors wrote in a memo on Feb. 4 that prosecutors included in their filing.

The military gave Airman Teixeira a certificate for completing training intended to prevent the “unauthorized disclosure” of classified information in March, after superiors had caught him mishandling classified material.Credit…Justice Department

Not only was Airman Teixeira allowed to remain in his job — he seems to have retained his top-secret security clearance — but he was subsequently given the second of two certificates after completing training intended to prevent the “unauthorized disclosure” of classified information.

In their filing, prosecutors cited those trainings as evidence that Airman Teixeira, 21, knowingly violated the law despite being “well aware of his obligations” and could not be trusted if released.

Two of Airman Teixeira’s superiors at the 102nd Intelligence Wing on Cape Cod have been suspended pending completion of an internal investigation by the Air Force inspector general, according to a spokeswoman for the service, Ann Stefanek. Their access to classified information has been temporarily blocked, she added.

The government also introduced previously undisclosed Discord posts, including one from December 2022 in which he bragged about violating “breaking a ton of UD regs” — a reference to “unauthorized disclosure” — but said he did not care “what they say I can or can’t share.”

In their own filing, Mr. Teixeira’s legal team, which is seeking his release on $20,000 bail, argued that he posed no risk of disclosing new intelligence, and pointed to previous cases where leak suspects were not detained indefinitely.

Mr. Teixeira’s father told the judge in Worcester last month that he would take responsibility for monitoring his son if he were released and that he would use security cameras around his house to alert him of any suspicious behavior while he was at work.

Much of what is publicly known about Airman Teixeira’s actions comes from reports by news organizations about posts he made on two Discord servers, including one that had about 600 members from at least 25 countries, according to their online profiles, The New York Times has reported.

In its new filing, the government said Mr. Teixeira had leaked intelligence on at least one more Discord server with at least 150 users, “some of whom represented that they lived in foreign countries.”

Airman Teixeira “ignored his oath and published sensitive, top-secret documents for his own pleasure,” prosecutors wrote in arguing for his detention. “The court should have no confidence that the promises he might make in this proceeding would mean any more to him than the many promises the defendant has already broken.”

The government had previously argued that releasing Airman Teixeira would pose a danger to his community, citing a history of violent remarks and racial threats, including comments about making a Molotov cocktail that got him suspended from high school several years ago.

A Times investigation revealed that Airman Teixeira was fixated on weapons, mass shootings and shadowy conspiracy theories. Even as he relished the respectability and access to intelligence he gained through his military service and top-secret clearance, he seethed with contempt about the government, accusing the United States of a host of secret, nefarious activities: making biological and chemical weapons in Ukrainian labs, creating the Islamic State, even orchestrating mass shootings.

“The FBI and other 3 letter agencies contact these unhinged mentally ill kids and convince them to do mass shootings,” Airman Teixeira wrote in an online chat group, sharing a debunked conspiracy theory after a gunman killed three people at a mall in Indiana last summer. The gunman, he claimed, was one of many mass shooters groomed by the government as part of a secret plot “to make people vote for” gun control.

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