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Airman Accused of Leak Has History of Racist and Violent Remarks, Filing Says


Prosecutors accused Jack Teixeira of trying to fecklessly cover up his actions and described a possible propensity toward violence.

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The Justice Department at sunset in Washington.

The Justice Department asked to indefinitely detain Jack Teixeira.Credit…Hailey Sadler for The New York Times

Glenn Thrush
April 27, 2023Updated 9:23 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Jack Teixeira, the Massachusetts Air National Guardsman accused of posting classified documents online, repeatedly tried to obstruct federal investigators and has a “troubling” history of making racist and violent remarks, Justice Department lawyers said in a court filing late Wednesday.

In an 18-page memo, released before a detention hearing scheduled for Thursday in a Massachusetts federal court, the department’s lawyers argued that Airman Teixeira needed to be detained indefinitely because he posed a “serious flight risk” and might still have information that would be of “tremendous value to hostile nation states.”

Airman Teixeira tapped into vast reservoirs of sensitive information, an amount that “far exceeds what has been publicly disclosed” so far, they wrote.

Prosecutors pointedly questioned Airman Teixeira’s overall state of mind, disclosing that he was suspended from high school in 2018 for alarming comments about the use of Molotov cocktails and other weapons, and trawled the internet for information about mass shootings. He engaged in “regular discussions about violence and murder” on the same social media platform, Discord, that he used to post classified information, the filing said, and he surrounded his bed at his parents’ house with firearms and tactical gear.

Airman Teixeira was also prone to making “racial threats,” prosecutors said.

This behavior — so disturbing it was flagged by local police when he applied for firearms identification card — is certain to raise new questions about how Airman Teixeira obtained a top-secret security clearance that gave him access to some of the country’s most sensitive intelligence reports.

In arguing for his confinement, prosecutors described a panicky, feckless effort by Airman Teixeira to cover up his actions as law enforcement closed in, including telling a member of a chat group to “delete all messages,” and instructing a user to stonewall investigators.

He also tried to destroy evidence, prosecutors said. The filing includes a series of photos of electronic equipment, including a tablet and an Xbox console, that he hurriedly smashed, then tossed in a dumpster near his home in North Dighton, Mass., before his arrest this month. A witness told the government that he threw his phone out the window of his truck as he was driving.

“These efforts appeared calculated to delay or prevent the government from gaining a full understanding of the seriousness and scale of his conduct,” the department wrote. “Any promise by the defendant to stay home or to refrain from compounding the harm that he has already caused is worth no more than his broken promises to protect classified national defense information.”

Airman Teixeira’s court-appointed lawyer did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Airman Teixeira was arrested on April 13, and charged with two separate counts related to the unauthorized handling of classified materials. The government has yet to indict him before a grand jury, although prosecutors said in their filing on Wednesday that he could face 25 years — “and potentially far more” — in prison if convicted.

In a preliminary complaint unsealed after he was taken into custody, Airman Teixeira was accused of abusing his top secret clearance with an intelligence unit on Cape Cod to post documents bearing restrictive classification markings to a 50-member chat group on Discord.

Shortly before signing off in March, Airman Teixeira told a member of the small group he “was very happy” to share intelligence very few people get to see and solicited requests for information they wanted him to post, prosecutors said late Wednesday.

The material, some obtained through keyword searches of government files, was eventually distributed more widely. The trove of documents made public revealed the access Western intelligence agencies have to internal Kremlin deliberations, while baring concerns of the strained U.S.-led alliance trying to contain Russian aggression without prompting a wider conflict.

Last week, The New York Times reported that Airman Teixeira, who worked as a computer network specialist, had been sharing sensitive information far earlier than previously known and to a much larger group. According to online posts reviewed by The Times, he had begun doing so in February 2022, within 48 hours of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to a chat group of about 600 members.

On Wednesday, prosecutors confirmed that report, writing that he “began to access hundreds of classified documents” unrelated to his job starting in February 2022.

Prosecutors’ filing cast Airman Teixeira’s actions, which had previously been seen as mainly motivated by his desire to show off to younger friends online, in a somewhat darker light.Credit…via Reuters

The filing provided little insight into what prompted Airman Teixeira to leak internal U.S. intelligence assessments, but it cast his actions, which had previously been seen as mainly motivated by his desire to show off to younger friends online, in a somewhat darker light.

Investigators found a small arsenal in his bedroom at the house he shared with his mother and stepfather. Inside a gun locker two feet from his bed, law enforcement officials found multiple weapons, including handguns, bolt-action rifles, shotguns, an AK-style high-capacity weapon and a gas mask. F.B.I. special agents also found ammunition, tactical pouches and what appeared to be a silencer-style accessory in his desk drawer.

Prosecutors also made public a series of social media posts from 2022 and 2023 in which Airman Teixeira expressed his desire to kill a “ton of people” and cull the “weak minded,” and described what he called an “assassination van” that would cruise around killing people in a “crowded urban or suburban environment.”

How Airman Teixeira obtained the documents that he is accused of posting online has been a critical question for investigators. They believe he used administrator privileges connected to his role as an information technology specialist to retrieve the documents. In his posts, Airman Teixeira said his job gave him access to material that others could not see. “The job I have lets me get privilege’s above most intel guys,” he wrote.

Airman Teixeira had been scheduled for a detention hearing in federal court in Boston earlier this month. But his lawyer, Brendan Kelley, requested more time to address the government’s arguments, and the magistrate judge, David. H. Hennessey, quickly agreed.

The next major step is likely to be the filing of a grand jury indictment, which would include a much more detailed narrative of the allegations against Airman Teixeira, including a more specific accounting of the charges he will face.

Worcester, a city 50 miles west of Boston, is where Judge Hennessey’s courtroom is based. But the case will eventually be assigned to a federal judge in Boston, assuming it is not moved out of Massachusetts entirely, which remains a possibility, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Officials at the Justice Department have considered asking that the case be moved to the Eastern District of Virginia, because its jurisdiction includes the Pentagon, and its lawyers have extensive experience in investigating such cases.

But it is not clear that the federal judges in Massachusetts, where Airman Teixeira lived and worked, will be willing to do so, and the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Rachael S. Rollins, a Biden appointee, believes her office is capable of handling the matter, people familiar with the situation said.

Asked about the case this week, Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen was noncommittal.

“It is currently being prosecuted and venued in the District of Massachusetts in Boston,” Mr. Olsen said, declining to comment further.

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Airman Jack Teixeira is expected to face a court hearing on Thursday, hours after prosecutors accused him of seeking to obstruct investigators and having a history of violent and racist remarks.

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    As a subscriber, you have 10 gift articles to give each month. Anyone can read what you share.

Jack Teixeira in military uniform taking a selfie with his phone.

Jack Teixeira, the Air National Guardsman accused of releasing classified material, in a photo posted on social media.Credit…Reuters

Published April 19, 2023Updated April 27, 2023, 1:30 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Jack Teixeira, a Massachusetts Air National Guardsman accused of posting classified documents about the war in Ukraine on social media, is expected to appear in a Massachusetts federal court on Thursday, hours after the government said in a memo that he continued to be a national security risk.

The filing shed new light on the government’s case against Airman Teixeira, as lawyers for the Justice Department wrote that he had repeatedly sought to obstruct investigators, had a history of violent and racist remarks — and possessed a knowledge of U.S. intelligence that made him a prime target for a hostile foreign power.

The hearing for Airman Teixeira, who was arrested April 13 on two separate counts related to the unauthorized handling and publication of classified materials, had been scheduled for federal court in Boston earlier this month. But his lawyer, Brendan Kelley, requested more time to address the government’s arguments, and the magistrate judge, David. H. Hennessey, quickly agreed.

Prosecutors often reveal new details of their case at detention hearings, but only enough information to argue that the defendant is a potential flight risk. The information disclosed late Wednesday was an exception — it sought to portray Airman Teixeira as violent and racist as well as an unpredictable threat.

The hearing, however, is just a preliminary step. The Justice Department is expected to follow up with an indictment before a grand jury as prosectors hash out logistics, like whether to request a potential change of venue closer to Washington.

Here’s what we know about the case.

Neither prosecutors nor national security officials yet know the full extent of the intelligence taken from the U.S. government’s classified systems. The material posted online primarily includes slides about the war in Ukraine created by the intelligence directorate of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. But there is also highly classified material from the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other spy agencies.

Many of the dozens of documents that have emerged so far are snapshots in time — bits of intelligence or overviews of the battlefield in Ukraine compiled on a particular day. But some of the material provides a level of detail about the strengths and weaknesses of the Russian and Ukrainian forces that American officials have been reluctant to discuss.

The documents were first posted to Thug Shaker Central, a small group on Discord, a social media platform popular among gamers. They were later shared more widely, and some were altered and reposted on other social media.

Although the charges against Airman Teixeira pertain to the documents released to Thug Shaker Central, an investigation by The New York Times found that he apparently shared sensitive intelligence to a larger group on Discord months before that.

The government’s filing late Wednesday confirmed that, but also suggested that he had access to much more information than has been made public so far.

Airman Teixeira worked as an information technology specialist and had administrative privileges on classified computer systems that appear to have allowed him access to a wide range of material, including briefing slides. But investigators are also trying to learn if he might have collected the material using less technologically sophisticated methods.

That seems to be the case: Prosecutors now say he conducted hundreds of keyword searches on government computers, and even asked members of his chat group what information they wanted him to retrieve.

The answer to that question will depend somewhat on what investigators learn about how he got access to this material. For now, intelligence agencies are not curbing their sharing of documents with the Pentagon. President Biden has ordered the Pentagon to limit the distribution of sensitive information, however. The Pentagon has also announced that it would review procedures across the Defense Department for using and securing the nation’s secrets.

Both the F.B.I. and news reporters found him in much the same way: by interviewing other members of Discord.

The members of the Thug Shaker Central Discord server who spoke with The New York Times did not reveal Airman Teixeira’s identity. But they shared some details about him, and reporters were able to find people on other video game forums connected to the known members of Thug Shaker Central, including Airman Teixeira.

To be sure, the F.B.I. found him first. But investigators must go through legal hurdles, like obtaining court approval for a search warrant. The Times had a chance to knock on Airman Teixeira’s door a few hours before F.B.I. agents arrived to search his home.

Airman Teixeira’s case bears some resemblance to other relatively recent leak cases in which people connected to the military or a spy agency used their access to acquire sensitive documents and posted them online or gave them to the news media.

But Chelsea Manning, who gave documents to WikiLeaks, and Reality Winner and Edward Snowden, who provided documents to the news media and other organizations, were trying to bring attention to things they thought the public needed to know. Airman Teixeira is accused of sharing documents with a small group of acquaintances, rather than trying to reveal them to the wider public.

Justice Department officials have been considering whether to ask the court to move the case to the Eastern District of Virginia, a court where both prosecutors and public defenders have extensive experience handling cases involving classified secrets. While Airman Teixeira is accused of taking the documents from a military base in Massachusetts, much of that material was originally created by the Pentagon, which is in the Eastern District.

That issue is still under consideration, even though prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts favor trying Airman Teixeira in Boston, according to people familiar with the situation.

Maya Shwayder contributed reporting.