A system in which a low-ranking 21-year-old information technology specialist has access to top secret information that could determine the course of the war in Ukraine does not appear to be serious.
Jack Teixeira walked backward step by step toward FBI agents armed with machine guns who took him into custody and placed him in handcuffs. Dozens of squad cars were parked nearby and major international TV news networks broadcast the operation live from helicopters. The whole operation was planned as if the capture of terrorists was at stake, not the arrest of a single unarmed individual.
Thursday’s spectacle in the small town of North Dighton, Massachusetts, was intended to help erase the impression that America is an amateurish state in the eyes of its citizens and the world as a result of the largest intelligence leak since the case of Edward Snowden in 2013.
The arrest also sought to erase that bad impression on a diplomatic level. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley made personal phone calls to America’s most important allies, including Ukraine, Israel, and South Korea. The State Department entrusted its damage control efforts to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. President Joe Biden, who was visiting Ireland, was advised about developments.
Millions of Insiders
Not only is it embarrassing for America that more than 100 documents classified as “top secret” saw the light of the day, but so is the way the leak occurred. Snowden was a traitor who fled to Russia with stolen intelligence. Former Iraq analyst Chelsea Manning released vast amounts of classified information through WikiLeaks, in part to disclose the brutal practices of the U.S. military. However, Teixeira began removing crucial security materials, photographing them in his home kitchen, and publishing them on the internet essentially for fun. The materials first appeared on the Discord platform in the racist, far-right, war and computer game fan group called Thug Shaker Central as early as December. The CIA and the Pentagon realized that something was wrong only three months ago, when classified information emerged on the popular Russian messaging app, Telegram. The scale of the leak is unknown even today. “Teixeira was doing this to impress us and to show us what war really is,” said one of the participants in the group of gaming enthusiasts.*
Dealing with the actions of Air Force National Guardsman Teixeira, detained in connection with leaked classified Pentagon documents, is the prerogative of the U.S. intelligence agencies. The Russian Federation’s task is to analyze the documents that have come to light, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Teixeira, who could face up to 15 years in prison, worked as an airman in the Massachusetts National Guard, an extremely low-level division of the U.S. Armed Forces. He was assigned to an agency that compiles intelligence collected primarily by drones. His task, however, was purely technical: to ensure that the IT networks worked properly.
Since this kind of individual has had access to the country’s top secrets since 2021, the question is how many others have similar clearance. America learned the truth about this situation with horror; the exact number of people with such top secret access is yet unknown. The New York Times reported that tens of thousands of people have access to top secret material. The Economist estimates that around a million Americans deal with some degree of confidential classification. This huge number of insiders is the result of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. If American intelligence agencies had exchanged information back then, they could presumably have prevented the attacks. Subsequently, agencies radically expanded the number of people with access to confidential material. But America has gone to the other extreme: what was supposed to be secret is no longer secret.
Will U.S. allies stop sharing secrets with Washington as a consequence? It’s pretty much out of the question, given how invaluable the information they receive from Americans in exchange is.
Yet, the effects of the Teixeira leak are extremely harmful. Most of all, they may interfere with Ukraine’s anticipated spring counteroffensive. Leaked documents contained precise data about the nine brigades and the status of ammunition and arms that were to be the basis of the operation. The reader can learn exactly where these forces and weapons are stationed and who (the Ukrainian 10th Army Corps) will coordinate the operation.
The leak also paints a very disturbing picture of Ukraine’s air defense. It turns out that the ammunition for the Buk launcher was supposed to run out on March 31 (according to the documents, which are dated from the end of February and March) and the S-300 launcher is supposed to run out of ammunition in early May. These are the systems that have so far prevented Russian aircraft from breaking through behind the front lines. Teixeira disclosed precise maps of the battery deployment, which has compromised how effective the air defense may be.
The leak also reveals the dire state of the Russian Armed Forces. It speaks of 35,000-43,000 soldiers who were killed in action and 154,000 who were wounded around six weeks ago. The army also lost approximately 2,000 tanks, the materials show. Since proportionally, Ukraine’s losses were not much smaller, the documents’ authors speak about a war of attrition until at least 2023.
Leaking such a message may significantly affect how the war ends because the public in the West, including Poland, is growing tired of the conflict.
Hence the expectation is that, if not this spring, then within a few months, the effects of supporting Ukraine will be visible in the form of regaining more territory occupied by the Russians. If this doesn’t happen, there will be increasingly louder calls for compromise with the Kremlin or even freezing the conflict along the current front line.
*Editor’s note: Although this quoted remark is accurately translated, it could not be independently verified.