WASHINGTON — Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was arrested by federal authorities on Thursday in connection with their investigation into classified documents that were leaked on the internet.
FBI agents took Teixeira into custody earlier Thursday afternoon “without incident,” Attorney General Merrick Garland announced in brief remarks at the Department of Justice, which has been conducting a criminal investigation into the matter.
“Today, the Justice Department arrested Jack Douglas Teixeira in connection with an investigation into alleged unauthorized removal, retention and transmission of classified national defense information. Teixeira is an employee of the United States Air Force National Guard,” Garland said.
Teixeira will have an initial appearance at the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, said Garland, who added that the investigation is ongoing. He declined to take questions from the press.
FBI agents arrested Teixeira at a residence in North Dighton, Mass., the bureau’s office in Boston said in a statement. The residence is more than an hour away from the military base where he worked.
“The FBI is continuing to conduct authorized law enforcement activity at the residence,” the statement said. “Since late last week the FBI has aggressively pursued investigative leads, and today’s arrest exemplifies our continued commitment to identifying, pursuing, and holding accountable those who betray our country’s trust and put our national security at risk.”
Military records show that Teixeira holds the rank of airman first class and has been in uniform since entering the Air National Guard in September 2019. He has been based at Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod and holds the title of cyber transport systems journeyman.
A Facebook post in July from the 102nd Intelligence Wing, which is headquartered at that base, congratulated an individual with the same name as Teixeira on a promotion to airman first class.
U.S. officials had been searching for the source of the leak, which exposed potentially hundreds of pages of intelligence about Russian efforts in Ukraine and spying on U.S. allies.
Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen Pat Ryder declined to confirm the leaker’s identity at the press briefing on Thursday and referred reporters to the Department of Justice because it’s a “law enforcement matter” and ongoing investigation, he said.
The Defense Department is “working around the clock” with the intelligence community, Ryder said, “to better understand the scope, scale of these leaks.” Ryder also said that the Pentagon is also “very limited” in what it can say about the documents themselves.
Asked about the intelligence activities of the Massachusetts Air National Guard where Teixeira worked, Ryder said that, “In general, intelligence wings throughout the Air Force support what you might imagine — Air Force intelligence requirements worldwide to support a variety of types of intelligence missions and requirements, which include active guard and reserve components.”
The classified documents from the Department of Defense were found online last month — it remains unclear how long the documents had been on the internet and the total number that have been posted — and revealed details of U.S. spying on Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine, secret assessments of Ukraine’s combat power, as well as intelligence gathering on America’s allies, including South Korea and Israel, NBC News previously reported.
President Joe Biden suggested on Thursday morning that officials appeared to be nearing a breakthrough in their investigation into who leaked the documents online.
“There’s a full-blown investigation going on as you know, with the Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department, and they’re getting close,” Biden told reporters in Ireland.
The suspect’s identity was first reported on Thursday by The New York Times, which said he was the leader of a small online gaming group where the documents were first leaked.
The Washington Post reported about the gaming group, and only identified him as “OG.” The main source of the story was a minor who was granted anonymity and was a member of this group on the platform Discord. The Post said it reviewed approximately 300 photos of classified documents that the suspect allegedly leaked, most of which the report said have not been made public.
NBC News has not yet verified the details about the gaming group and that it was the source of where the classified documents were first shared.
Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were briefed about the disclosure last week, administration officials said. That was when the White House first learned about the existence of the documents in the public domain, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters earlier this week.
According to Bellingcat, the online open-source investigative group, the documents appeared in early March on the Discord social media app. Some documents may have appeared as early as January, the group said.
Kirby said the Pentagon is “leading an interagency effort here to review whatever national security implications might come out of all this” and said the Department of Justice is leading a criminal investigation into the leaks.
He also said that it appears that some of the classified documents had been altered from their original form. Kirby said that Biden administration officials spent last weekend contacting “relevant allies and partners” and “at very high levels” to reassure them about the leaks.