The Massachusetts Air National Guard intelligence wing member accused of leaking hundreds of classified military documents online was charged with violating the Espionage Act Friday, a day after federal authorities arrested him at gunpoint at his family’s Dighton home.
In federal court in Boston, Jack D. Teixeira, 21, was charged with violating the act by retaining and transmitting national defense information without authorization. He was also charged with removal and retention of classified documents without authorization.
The Espionage Act states that it’s a crime for a government employee or contractor to divulge classified material to those not authorized to receive it.
Teixeira, whose title with the National Guard was “Cyber Defense Operations Journeyman,” was arrested by heavily armed FBI agents Thursday after an investigation by the FBI, Department of Justice, and the Pentagon into the source of leaked classified documents, a massive breach that included detailed US intelligence assessments of the war in Ukraine and other sensitive matters, according to news reports.
Most of the documents “bear classification markings, including ‘TOP SECRET’ markings, which would serve to indicate the presence of US Government classified information, including national defense information,” according to a criminal complaint and FBI affidavit unsealed Friday.
Some of the images posted online appeared to show information presented to senior military and civilian government officials during Pentagon briefings, the filing said.
Teixeira entered the courtroom in handcuffs, shackles, and a khaki-colored prison suit. After a brief hearing, Magistrate Judge David Hennessy ordered him held without bail until a hearing, scheduled for Wednesday, on whether he should remain in custody while the case is pending.
As the hearing began, Teixeira turned and scanned the courtroom, appearing to search for a familiar face. Several of his relatives, including people believed to be his parents, were seated in the front row of the courtroom, and one of them dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.
Assistant US Attorney Nadine Pellegrini, head of the national security unit at the US attorney’s office in Massachusetts, said Teixeira faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on each charge.
As Teixeira left the courtroom, a man shouted, “We love you, Jack,” and Teixeira responded, “I love you too, Dad.” It was unclear if the man was Teixeira’s father or stepfather.
When asked if he had any comment outside the courthouse, the man said, “It’s a beautiful day” and one of the two women with him said, “It’s a gorgeous day.”
Asked if there was anything they wanted people to know about Teixeira, the man said, “Nothing.”
Teixeira’s family held each other by the arms, declined to identify themselves, and ignored questions as they were followed by a horde of media for several blocks from the courthouse to a parking lot.
According to court documents, the leaked classified materials included “a document that described the status of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, including troop movements, on a particular date.”
A person identified in court papers as “User 1″ told the FBI that a person, later identified as Teixeira, at one point explained “that he had become concerned that he may be discovered making the transcriptions of text in the workplace, so he began taking the documents to his residence and photographing them,” according to the affidavit.
The person described Teixeira as “a white male who was clean-cut in appearance and between 20 and 30 years old.”
Teixeira received a top-secret security clearance in 2021, authorities said. He allegedly accessed the classified information while assigned to Otis Air Force Base, part of Joint Base Cape Cod, as a member of the 102nd Intelligence Wing.
“Based on my training and experience, I know that to acquire his security clearance, Teixeira would have signed a lifetime binding non-disclosure agreement in which he would have had to acknowledge that the unauthorized disclosure of protected information could result in criminal charges,” the affidavit said.
Investigators believe Teixeira led an online messaging group, where the documents first appeared. A Washington Post report Wednesday described how the group’s leader posted the classified documents on a regular basis for months before they came to wider public attention last week.
Teixeira joined the National Guard in September 2019 before graduating from Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School in 2020.
On April 6, he allegedly “used his government computer to search classified intelligence reporting for the word ‘leak,’” the same day media reports began surfacing about the breach, authorities said.
“Accordingly, there is reason to believe that Teixeira was searching for classified reporting regarding the US Intelligence Community’s assessment of the identity of the individual who transmitted classified national defense information, to include the Government Document,” the affidavit said.
Teixeira was represented in court Friday by Brendan O. Kelley, an assistant federal defender, who left the courthouse without commenting on the case.
Speaking during an interview on GBH’s “Boston Public Radio” program Friday afternoon, Governor Maura Healey described the leaks as “incredibly disturbing.”
“This is a man from Dighton who was on federal orders, conducting a federal mission,” Healey told the station. “He was extensively vetted by all accounts, as all service members are who are cleared for this level of work. We’re obviously in dialogue with the FBI and will provide any support we can to them as they conduct this investigation and pursue this case.”
Kevin Powers, an assistant professor at Boston College who formerly served as an attorney for the Defense and Justice departments, said that while many are asking how a 21-year-old allegedly accessed classified information, such clearance is not uncommon.
”It sounds like he had top-secret clearance, he had access to this information, and he needed access to this information to do his job,” Powers said. “It depends what he was working on [with] what information, and then there’s always this level of trust.”
Mike Damiano and Matt Stout of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Jorja Siemons contributed to this report.
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