- WASHINGTON POST
Amid Leak of U.S. Secrets, Pentagon Hunts How Documents Left Air Base
16:34 JST, May 21, 2023
BOURNE, Mass. – Far from Washington’s marble floors and limestone facades, an unremarkable military facility in one of New England’s most picturesque shore-side destinations has become ground zero in the extraordinary leak of government secrets that has unnerved foreign capitals, embarrassed the Biden administration and triggered an expansive effort to account for the breach.
Behind the chain-link fencing and towering oaks walling off Joint Base Cape Cod from the public, Airman 1st Class Jack Teixeira is alleged to have photographed and smuggled out hundreds of highly classified documents that have revealed in striking, sometimes alarming detail the scope of America’s spying abroad.
The Discord leaks have become one of the most significant disclosures of top-secret intelligence in a decade, creating a moment of crisis for the Pentagon. Since Teixeira’s April 13 arrest, military investigators have spent weeks scouring the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard for evidence to understand whether any others may share in the blame – even if the alleged leaker acted alone in posting the materials online.
The personnel who work here are entrusted to analyze intelligence collected by surveillance drones and other U.S. assets, a program that has been suspended by the Pentagon and temporarily reassigned. The fallout has left some who live near the base worried about whether the mission will be stripped away permanently as senior military officials interrogate what happened and whether the unit’s leaders failed to enforce rules meant to safeguard such work.
Teixeira, 21, grew up about an hour away in Dighton, Mass. He’d had a troubled past, federal prosecutors contend, including a suspension from high school after another student reported hearing him make threats of violence and espouse racist views. That alleged episode compelled local law enforcement to deny Teixeira’s request for a firearms permit, though police relented some years later after he joined the military.
It is unclear how, despite those red flags, Teixeira was allowed to enlist in the Air National Guard and maintain access to classified information for so long. The military investigation that was directed by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall seeks to determine whether his unit complied with directives to safeguard classified information, officials told The Washington Post. They declined, however, to say whether it will examine Teixeira’s recruitment as well.
Already, two officers who supervised Teixeira have been suspended pending the results of the review by Lt. Gen. Stephen Davis, the Air Force inspector general. Those personnel have not been identified publicly. Davis and a team of investigators were at Joint Base Cape Cod from April 26 through May 8, said an Air Force official who, like some others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
Separately, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed Pentagon officials last month to lead a review assessing how to improve policies protecting classified information. Among the organizations participating is the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, which oversees background checks and investigations required for security clearances, said Pentagon spokeswoman Lisa Lawrence. Initial recommendations are due to Austin in about two weeks.
Teixeira, who could face 25 years in prison, remains in custody as the Justice Department’s criminal case proceeds, with a judge deciding Friday that he could do even more damage to national security if released. He also faces additional potential discipline by the military. After the Air Force concludes its investigation, a commander will determine whether he should be charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the official said. In the meantime, the Air Force official said, the service is coordinating closely with the FBI on its investigation.
Rachel VanLandingham, a retired Air Force lawyer who has closely watched the case, said military investigators ought to be scrutinizing the broad spectrum of personnel who observed Teixeira throughout his short military career and either could have – or should have – identified and reported him as a security risk.
“It would be derelict of the Air Force,” she said, not to review how Teixeira was recruited. “They absolutely need to be investigating who knew about this, who should have known about this, and if anyone did know about this, what did they do with that information?”
The work performed here by the 102nd Intelligence Wing is a replacement mission that began after the F-15 fighter jets that had been stationed on Cape Cod for years were relocated in 2008 to Barnes Air National Guard Base in western Massachusetts. About 1,200 personnel are assigned to the unit, including about 705 who serve in a part-time status, said a military official familiar with the unit’s operations.
Two people familiar with the 102nd’s operations said personnel here typically work in groups of up to 30, monitoring live surveillance feeds and photographs generated by drone and other reconnaissance aircraft operating all over the world. The unit’s hub, Otis Air National Guard Base, sits within the larger multiservice facility that also houses Coast Guard search-and-rescue teams, missile warning systems and an Army National Guard combat training center.
Teixeira worked in the intelligence unit’s operations center, performing maintenance on computers and the classified network that collects and disseminates material meant to be seen only by authorized personnel. The position required him and other IT staff assigned here to have a top-secret clearance, even though they have no need to access information about classified programs, the Air Force official said.
Prosecutors, in court documents, have suggested Teixeira became a problem within his unit not long after he was assigned to the 102nd in 2021 but was allowed to continue handling classified information anyway. According to redacted internal memos written by his supervisors, submitted to the court as part of the government’s case to keep him in jail pending trial, he was confronted at least three times after being observed examining or writing notes about classified intelligence unrelated to his primary responsibilities.
One of the memos indicates he disregarded a “cease-and-desist order,” though it is unclear whether any punitive action was taken as a result. He had been offered an opportunity to cross-train as an intelligence analyst but declined, the document says.
Teixeira, in messages posted on Discord, indicated that he knew he should not be sharing classified information, even suggesting that he was aware that doing so could see him treated like Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. soldier who was convicted in 2013 of espionage charges after sharing a cache of classified documents with the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
“Idgaf what they say I can or can’t share,” Teixeira wrote, according to court documents, using an acronym for “I don’t give a f—.” “All the sh-t I’ve told you guys I’m not supposed to.”
Air Force officials are deliberating how they might impose new safeguards that would wall off access to sensitive information on a greater need-to-know basis, even among those who already have approval to review classified materials, the Air Force official said.
“Does it make sense,” this person said, “that you could limit an IT professional’s access to pieces and parts? Could you lock down folders? Or could you require certain certificates to view them?”
It’s unclear if the Air Force will disclose the findings of its investigation. Typically, significant details about a high-profile inspector general inquiries are made public but with classified details withheld.
Guard members on Cape Cod who have been sidelined as a result of the breach are “disappointed about the loss of their stellar reputation,” another military official said, adding, “They want to get back to work.”
Amid the lighthouses and seaside vistas of Joint Base Cape Cod’s surrounding towns, there are few hints of the turmoil that has gripped those reporting for duty inside. But among those with ties to the military mission here, the scandal has prompted disgust.
Donald Quenneville, a retired Air National Guard general who spent most of his 36-year career stationed on Cape Cod, said the incident amounts to a “violation of a trust,” but the impact locally has been blunted some by the base’s evolving relationship with the community. When he first arrived here to fly aircraft in the 1970s, Quenneville recalled, many Guard members lived nearby, and there were frequent, overt reminders of their presence in the habitual rumble of jet engines overhead.
But fewer Guard members are assigned to the base today, he noted, and those who are often commute, as Teixeira did, from long distances in part because of the skyrocketing price of real estate here.
Quenneville, who lives in the nearby town of Falmouth, compared the Air Force investigation now underway to the type of inquiry necessary after an aircraft crash, when officials work to ensure that all causes are identified and necessary changes can be made. “We swore,” he said, “that we would uphold those secrets.”
Some residents have seized on the military’s suspension of the intelligence mission to air their opposition to the size and scope of its presence in the region. In a letter to Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey (D) last month, the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, an environmental group, wrote that the intelligence mission’s “termination” underscores a need to revisit how the base is used, and whether portions could be used to help address the shortage of affordable housing.
Troy Clarkson, a former civilian base employee who went on to a career in Massachusetts politics, and said he worries that upheaval from the leak leaves the region vulnerable. The installation has survived several rounds of realignments over the years, he said, noting the one that stripped away the fighter jets central to U.S. deterrence of Russia during the Cold War and, later, that were scrambled to New York City in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
“This kid clearly screwed up – but I think his screw-up does not denote a failure in the system,” said Clarkson, now the city manager in Brockton, about an hour to the northwest.
Over hot coffee in the Talk of the Town diner, a few miles west of the base, Clarkson said the community’s relationship with the military was fractured in the 1990s when groundwater contamination from the base leached into surrounding areas. The reaction to the document leak has been more muted by contrast, he said, though he called it a “betrayal” and “profoundly frustrating and disappointing.”
Rick Rege, who splits time between western Massachusetts and a home north of the base in the town of Sandwich, said there must be consequences for the leak, and a review of how IT security is handled in the future. But he doesn’t see the scandal changing how residents feel about the military.
“I think most people will see this as a one-off,” Rege said, “as a renegade kid who did something that he shouldn’t have done.”
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