Jack Teixeira, the Pentagon leaks suspect: A victim of ego

Sources close to the 21-year-old airman describe him as a history buff who only wanted to impress his friends online

Jack Teixeira
Jack Teixeira, in shorts and a T-shirt, is arrested at his home by the FBI on Thursday, April 13, in Dighton, Massachusetts.AP
Macarena Vidal Liy

According to veterans of international secret services, there are only four reasons that motivate a person to steal intelligence data and pass it on to others: greed, blackmail, the pursuit of justice, and ego: the desire to win glory and impress others.

This last motive is the only one that seems to fit the case of Jack Douglas Teixeira, a 21-year-old recruit for the Massachusetts Air National Guardsman who is accused of having leaked dozens — if not hundreds — of sensitive military documents. The leak — which may be the most serious since WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables in 2010 — has caused friction between the United States and some of its allies, and the Pentagon is still trying to assess the scope of the damage. According to Teixeira’s online followers, the 21-year-old leaked the Pentagon documents because he wanted to keep the group informed, and to impress them, and in this way, win them over.

Teixeira’s acquaintances describe him as a quiet and relatively lonely boy, who was religious, passionate about military history and had an easier time making friends through video games and internet forums than in the classroom.

In the photos published of him, Teixeira appears as a slight, young man, still coming out of adolescence, who is proud in his uniform. They are very different images to the footage broadcast on TV last Thursday, when FBI agents in bulletproof vests surrounded his family’s home and arrested him.

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An undated picture shows Jack Douglas Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the U.S. Air National Guard.SOCIAL MEDIA WEBSITE (via REUTERS)

Since he was in high school in Dighton, a town of just 8,000 inhabitants in southwestern Massachusetts, Teixeira knew he wanted to be a soldier, preferably in the National Guard, according to his classmates. In an interview with The Boston Globe, classmate John Powell described him as a “quiet kid,” who was a “history buff, especially when it came to wars.” Powell added that Teixeira was also picked on a lot. “He just kept to himself; he would do his own thing. But it still happened, regardless. And I feel like he handled it well,” he said.

Teixeira’s interest in the military and firearms ran in his family. His stepfather was a member of the National Guard, and worked in the same unit — the 102nd Intelligence Wing – where the young man ended up being stationed. While his mother had worked with veteran-orientated nonprofit organizations before she opened a flower shop.

Teixeira finished high school in 2020, and almost immediately, joined the National Guard, where his was a “cyber transport systems specialist.” In other words, he was essentially an IT specialist in charge of ensuring that military communications, including cabling, were working as they should.

In order to fulfill this task, he would have had been authorized to access information considered top secret. The FBI argues that thanks to this role, Teixeira was able to obtain data that was theoretically reserved only for high command and higher levels of administration, such as reports to the Chiefs of Staff, maps with the positions of Ukrainian troops and details about the extent to which U.S. intelligence had succeeded in infiltrating the Russian military.

Meanwhile, Teixeira spent his spare time playing video games. He joined a social media channel to discuss tactics, where he met people with similar interests to his. Then, he opened a private channel on Discord — a platform popular among gamers — to talk about firearms, military history, wars in general and specifically the war in Ukraine; and to share jokes and memes.

The group was called Thug Shaker Central and was could only be accessed it invitation. Most members were aged between 20 and 30, and the vast majority were young men with the same hobbies as Teixeira. Some of the young users considered Teixeira — who was known by his online nickname “O.G.” which may stand for “Original Gangster” — as a kind of father figure and role model.

“Everyone respected O.G,” Vahki, a 17-year-old recent high school graduate, told the New York Times. “He was the man, the myth. And he was the legend. Everyone respected this guy.”

In the preliminary hearing on Friday, the FBI said Teixeira began to share confidential Pentagon documents with Thug Shaker Central in December. According to the affidavit, Teixeira initially transcribed the documents in his possession, but the following month, he began taking the documents home, photographing them and sharing the images with the Discord group. According to the FBI, who spoke with one of the chat’s members last Monday, Teixeira took the material home because “he had become concerned that he may be discovered making the transcriptions of text in the workplace.” Other members of the group told U.S. media that Teixeira felt that his followers were no longer paying enough attention to him.

The young soldier had made the members of the group swear that the information he provided would not leave the group. One member told The Washington Post that it was just about “keeping kids informed about real-world issues.”

In other serious leaks, the person who released the secret information had a moral reason for doing so: Chelsea Manning turned over nearly 700,000 confidential documents to WikiLeaks in protest of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; while Edward Snowden leaked classified information from the National Security Agency to warn the public about global surveillance programs. Teixeira, according to his friends, was not motivated by any kind of idealism, nor was he intending to harm the country. “He loved America but simply didn’t feel confident in its future,” the Post source said.

The Washington Post added that Teixeira also reportedly recorded himself making anti-Semitic and racist slurs before opening fire on a target.

The situation took a turn for the worst in February, when one of the Discord group members copied several of the documents that Teixeira had shared and posted them in public groups on other social networks, where they began to attract more attention. Last week, the U.S. media published the first stories about the leaked files.

According to the FBI, as the attention grew, Teixeira looked up classified information on April 6 to determine to what extent investigators knew about the source of the leak. He also held a video call with members of the Discord group. According to the Globe, which quotes one of the participants, Teixeira told them: “I’m sorry, guys, I prayed every single day that this wouldn’t happen. I prayed, and I prayed, and now it’s only up to God what happens next.”

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