The Air Force said Tuesday that it has stripped a Cape Cod Air National Guard unit of its intelligence mission after one of its members, Airman Jack D. Teixeira, was accused in federal court of leaking a trove of classified documents online in a massive national security breach.
The 102nd Intelligence Wing is “not currently performing its assigned intelligence mission. The mission has been temporarily reassigned to other organizations within the Air Force,” the Air Force said in a statement, which was issued shortly after Secretary Frank Kendall said at a congressional hearing that he has directed his inspector general to assess the Cape Cod unit to determine “anything associated with this leak that could have gone wrong.”
The announcement came days after Teixeira, a 21-year-old from Dighton, was arraigned on charges under the Espionage Act for allegedly sharing top secret documents that dealt with the Ukraine war and other matters to an online Discord group from December to March. The scandal has cast a harsh spotlight on the military intelligence system and raised questions about how a junior guardsman had access to such sensitive material.
Beyond the actions against the Cape Cod intelligence unit, located at Otis Air National Guard Base, the Air Force is conducting “a security-focused stand down” at each of its intelligence units over the next month to “reassess our security posture and procedures, validate the need to know for each person’s access, and emphasize to all Airmen and Guardians the responsibility we are entrusted with to safeguard this information and to enforce and improve our security requirements.”
The Massachusetts Air National Guard said in a statement that it’s fully cooperating with the FBI’s investigation into the leaks.
“National security is our foremost priority,” the statement said. “Attempts to undermine it compromise our organization’s values and degrades trust among our members, the public, allies, and partners. We welcome any review of our adherence to established Department of Defense regulations for the handling of classified information. We will not hesitate to take appropriate measures to address any issues identified during an investigation.”
Members of Congress are expected to receive a classified briefing on the document leak on Wednesday from officials from agencies involved in the probe, according to three sources familiar with the schedule.
Jack Weinstein, a Boston University professor of international security and retired Air Force lieutenant general, said the removal of the 102nd Intelligence Wing’s mission was highly unusual but justified.
“It is not normal for a unit to lose its mission over the behavior of one individual, no matter how egregious the behavior of that individual is,” Weinstein said. But under the circumstances, the action was “completely appropriate,” he said.
The Air Force “needs to do an investigation into all aspects of the unit. How do they monitor personnel? How do they keep tabs on classified material?” he said.
Weinstein said there are many unanswered questions about Teixeira’s access to classified material and the level of oversight he received.
“What do his supervisors know about his on-duty and off-duty behavior?” Weinstein said. “How did his supervisors not see a change in behavior? How did he gain access to classified material as an IT person” and have the ability to remove it?
Teixeira enlisted in the Massachusetts Air National Guard in 2019, a year before he graduated from high school. He served as a cyber defense operations journeyman and received a top secret security clearance in 2021, according to federal prosecutors.
Teixeira is charged with retaining and transmitting national defense information without authorization, and with removal and retention of classified documents without authorization, according to federal prosecutors. He was ordered held without bail Friday at his initial appearance in federal court in Boston. A detention hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in US District Court in Boston.
High school classmates have described Teixeira as fascinated with military history and guns, while people in the small online community where he allegedly posted the documents said his primary motivation seemed to be showing off.
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.”
Investigators said in court papers that Teixeira may have more documents at two addresses where he lives in Dighton.
“Although certain information has been posted on various social media sites, there is good cause to believe that additional, highly sensitive documents containing US national defense information will be found” by investigators, Victoria Horne, a special agent with the FBI, said in one court document.
On Tuesday, the Air Force said its investigation will be extensive.
“The secretary of the Air Force directed the Department of the Air Force inspector general to investigate overall compliance with policy, procedures, and standards, including the unit environment and compliance at the 102nd Intelligence Wing related to the release of national security information,” officials said.
During the congressional hearing, Senator Susan Collins of Maine grilled Kendall about the alleged leaks, according to a transcript provided by the office of the Maine Republican.
“As I read the press reports about the airman first class, who allegedly took perhaps hundreds of sensitive classified documents, the first thing that came to my mind is, whatever happened to need-to-know? That is the principle that is supposed to oversee and restrict access to sensitive, classified information,” Collins said.
Instead Teixeira allegedly accessed a “classified Internet system, to access all sorts of sensitive classified documents that had absolutely nothing to do with his job. Is the need-to-know principle still in place?” she said.
“Senator Collins, it is very much in place,” Kendall replied.
The Air Force must “enforce it much more rigorously than it appears to have been in this case,” he added. “I will say that we don’t know all the facts here yet. There is a criminal investigation going on. That’s been the first priority, to make sure that wasn’t interfered with. But we’ve turned on three other things to look at this across the board.”
Kendall said Air Force officials are distressed by the leaks.
“There is a full-court press going on about this,” he said. “We’re all disturbed about it. And we’re working very, very hard to get to the bottom of it and take corrective actions.”
Collins followed up with additional remarks in which she said it was “equally disturbing” that the classified documents were apparently sitting on the Internet for months before the Air Force got wind of the issue.
“Well, that is absolutely one of the things we’ll be looking at,” Kendall replied. “Apparently, he shared it, from press reports, with a group of friends in a chat group that was supposed to be isolated. It got out of that group, but it was there for, as you say, for a period of months. . . . We’re going to get to the bottom of all of that. We have, obviously, we have to tighten up our processes and our practices to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Jackie Kucinich of the Globe staff and correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.
Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com.