A sworn statement by an FBI investigator filed Friday in federal court in Boston provided the first official look at the job responsibilities of accused leaker Jack D. Teixeira — and offered clues about how the 21-year-old guardsman could have accessed some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets.
Although Teixeira was a junior staffer, his job as a technology specialist at Otis Air National Guard Base required him to have a Top Secret security clearance, according to the statement from FBI Special Agent Patrick Lueckenhoff.
And his work, as a “Cyber Transport Systems Journeyman,” put him in contact with computer systems containing highly classified intelligence reports. Although the statement does not specify which systems Teixeira worked on, intelligence and cybersecurity experts who have analyzed the leak homed in on one in particular: the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, where the US Defense Department houses sensitive information.
That system played a significant role in another massive intelligence breach: the 2010 leak of hundreds of thousands of classified intelligence documents and diplomatic cables by Chelsea Manning.
Manning, a junior intelligence analyst, accessed the JWICS system in Iraq and then shared materials she removed from the system with Wikileaks. She was later sentenced to 35 years in prison over the leaks, although President Barack Obama commuted her sentence before he left office in 2017.
Teixeira stands accused of similar conduct: removing Top Secret intelligence documents from government systems before posting them online.
Like Manning, Teixeira had a low-level role. But at military facilities across the country, workers at his level — essentially IT staffers — possess Top Secret clearances so they can work on networks such as JWICS and ensure they are operating correctly.
The massive leak of classified military intelligence documents, allegedly carried out by Teixeira, is casting a harsh light on the military’s internal security protocols, prompting calls for the Defense Department to strengthen protections against unauthorized disclosures.
“There is trust built into the system, where you have to trust that people are not going to violate or break the law” in the course of their duties, said Monica D. Toft, who directs the Center for Strategic Studies at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and who served as a Russian linguist with the US Army during the Cold War.
Toft said it’s not uncommon for young people to obtain high-security clearances; she was 18 when she received hers as part of her job intercepting Russian communications. But that responsibility comes with guidance and stark warnings, she said.
“There is a lot of training” on how to handle classified material, Toft said. “It’s [made] very clear that if you don’t handle it properly, there are legal consequences and you may go to jail.”
Toft said extensive background checks are conducted on people seeking clearances, but those reviews may not uncover any red flags on an applicant as young as Teixeira, who served in the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard.
Military screeners would have spoken to his “high school counselors, friends, and neighbors,” Toft said, but those people “haven’t observed him operating in the professional world.”
Court papers indicate Teixeira obtained his Top Secret security clearance in 2021, when he would have been 19 or 20.
Ivan Arreguín-Toft, a faculty member at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science & International Affairs who served as a US Army signals intelligence official in Germany in the 1980s, noted that many of the regulations around classified material were written decades before the Internet accelerated how quickly information is disseminated to the public.
Arreguín-Toft, who is married to Monica Toft, said that when he was in the service, people had to “walk past armed Marines if we wanted to take something home.” Now it can be done instantaneously online, he said.
Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution who serves on the Defense Policy Board, a committee of experts that advises the Department of Defense, said it was “stunning” how much access Teixeira had to secret information.
“The basic concept is called ‘need to know.’ It’s not just that you have a clearance. ... You only share information with people that have a reason to see it. This 21-year-old had no need to see any of this,” O’Hanlon said.
Representative Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Salem and Marine veteran who served in Iraq, expressed concern that if the sources and methods of how the Russian intelligence was obtained are jeopardized, that could present “as much more dangerous long-term consequences” than some operational details of the war contained in the leaked documents.
”If this entitled 21-year-old has shut that off, a lot more Ukrainians could die and in the long run it impacts the safety of every American,” he said.
Moulton said the Pentagon will hold a briefing when Congress returns to Washington, but the timing hasn’t been set.
”Everyone I know is asking this question, ‘How on Earth did he have access to such sensitive documents?” he said, adding that post-9/11 intelligence sharing reforms could be part of the reason Teixeira had access to the information.
Anupam Chander, a professor of law and technology at Georgetown Law School, said he “thought we had learned our lesson over the last decade of such high-profile leaks, but apparently we still do not have enough constraints on who can access what.”
The breach is “not only a failing of the alleged leaker, but of” US national security systems in general, he said.
“We have to blame ourselves just as much as we might blame the leaker,” Chander said.
Juliette Kayyem, who oversaw Massachusetts’ National Guard while serving as a homeland security adviser to then-governor Deval Patrick, said Thursday that Teixeira should never have been able to access such secret documents.
“Why a 21-year-old in the Air National Guard has access to intelligence about a war that we’re not fighting, and that poses no threat to the homeland, is the question that has to be answered,” she said.
Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com. Jackie Kucinich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @JFKucinich and on Instagram at @JackieKucinich. Jorja Siemons can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her @JorjaSiemons. Mike Damiano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.