Is this one of the fastest manhunts in history? 

A 21 year-old US airman will appear in a Boston court later today as the suspected perpetrator of the most serious US military intelligence leak since the stash of sensitive material released by Edward Snowden a decade ago.

Two days after US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, pledged to “turn over every rock” in the race to find the leaker, Jack Teixeira, a junior member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s Intelligence Wing, was arrested by the FBI at his family home in Dighton, rural Massachusetts. 

Helicopter news footage from last night showed a young man in red shorts being ordered to walk backwards towards a team of agents standing by an armoured vehicle, pointing their rifles at him.

Teixeira faces charges under the Espionage Act.

He is thought to be responsible for posting hundreds of highly classified US intelligence documents on Discord – a social media platform popular with gamers. As reported yesterday in Reaction, these sensitive military documents contained detailed analysis of the war in Ukraine as well as exposing the degree to which US spies on countries it calls friends.

What else do we know about the suspect? 

Teixeira worked as an IT specialist in the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts National Guard, based at Otis Air National Guard Base in western Cape Cod. The National Guard is a reservist wing of the US Air Force. They are not employed full time in the military, but can be deployed when necessary.  

The airman’s family has a history of military service. His stepfather retired after 34 years of service, according to the Washington Post, and his mother has previously worked in non-profits focused on veterans. 

Teixeira is thought to be the Discord user known to fellow online community as “OG”, who led an invite-only online chat room comprised mainly of male teenagers from various countries, including Russia and Ukraine. 

One member of chatroom told the New York Times: “He was the man, the myth. And he was the legend. Everyone respected this guy.”

The group, called Thug Shaker Central, was created in 2020 and contained 20 to 30 members who shared a “mutual love of guns, military gear and God.”

This is where Teixeira chose to share images of such top-secret information. 

Teixeira’s motive appears somewhat unusual – and different from the likes of Edward Snowden. 

According to other members of the chatroom, who have spoken to the press anonymously, the youthful airman was neither a whistleblower nor a foreign agent. While he was critical of US government overreach, he was primarily posting the documents in an apparent attempt to impress others in the group and because he wanted to keep his friends “in the loop” about world events. 

Others members don’t believe he ever intended for the documents to be circulated widely but, late in February, one member of the group posted some of the documents to another Discord server and – unsurprisingly – they quickly spread.

It’s not yet clear exactly how the FBI tracked down Teixeira. But Discord is said to have been co-operating with law enforcement agencies in the US in recent days. 

Teixeira is strikingly young, having only graduated from high school in 2020. And the rank he holds – of Airman 1st Class – is a relatively junior position.

This unusual – but highly consequential – case raises troubling questions for the US military about security clearance of staff. 

The Pentagon has promised to review its policy in granting top-secret clearance. Though a Pentagon spokesman also added that it is “the nature” of the US military to entrust young service members with high levels of responsibility. That may well come up for review after Teixeira’s extraordinary access to so much classified intelligence.

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