Leak of Pentagon Documents Reveal a Larger Issue in American Cybersecurity

Samantha Elkins, Print Co-Editor-in-Chief

In early April, the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation regarding the leakage of several classified national defense documents from the Pentagon that provided insight into the U.S.’s recent spy work and involvement in foreign affairs. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has identified the leaker as 21-year-old National Guardsman, Jack Teixeira. 

According to CNN, Teixeira posted the documents on the social media platform, Discord. Teixeria was the administrator of an invite-only chat room on Discord called, “Thug Shaker Central.” The chat room contained about a dozen members who reportedly shared memes, stories, offensive jokes and discussed guns and the war in Ukraine. 

Teixeira began writing up versions of sensitive information, took pictures and uploaded copies of documents. Reportedly, many of the photos appear crumbled up, leading officials to believe Teixeria worked hastily to take pictures of the classified material. 

Officials deem Teixeira leaked the information to impress other members in the chat room and did not act in effort of harming the U.S.. Nonetheless, Teixeria faces charges under the Espionage Act; an act that prohibits obtaining any information related to national defense with reason to believe it could be used to harm the U.S..  

Officials have already deemed some documents as valid. They expose details of the U.S. eavesdropping on their allies including Ukraine and Israel. Additionally, documents provided enemies with key insight into Ukraine’s military expeditions, resulting in the Ukrainian military altering their war strategies. Much of the information leaked concerning Russia was gathered through intercepted communications, leading officials to believe Russia will alter its methods to avoid a breach like this again. The U.S. continues to run damage assessments following the leak to see to what extent their methods and sources are public. 

In the past, other U.S. citizens have breached national security in order to inform the world of the government’s actions. In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked classified information in effort to inform the world of privacy abuses by government intelligence agencies of U.S actions. Snowden has since resided in Russia, following being denied asylum in over 27 nations. Snowden acted because he thought the government was breaking the fourth amendment and the people needed to know. I can see the nobility in that, yet to my understanding, Teixeira leaked classified information just to impress a group of people on Discord. The leakage of these documents has serious implications.

“It’s good to make the government more transparent. But at the end of the day, there are some things that they do for our benefit, and some people that don’t take our safety into account. They just want to expose the government without really thinking through how they can damage society,” AP Computer Science A and Principles teacher Malena Quintela said.

There is no official number of documents released, but around 50 to over 100 may have been uploaded to Discord and other services. The U.S. government aims to keep Americans and their allies safe, yet breaches like these have made many question the U.S.’s ability to safeguard information. 

“Well, that’s government secrets. That’s proprietary information. That’s access to maybe new codes or things that could endanger our lives, that’s something that the government has to be more aware of. That’s not something that we as civilians can control; it’s more of a government issue,” Quintela said. 

No matter the motive, releasing highly classified information makes other countries, enemies, allies or even its own citizens question the safety and security of the U.S. According to his military service record, Teixeira’s title was an Airman first class; notably a low rank. He was tasked with repairing communication systems, yet somehow still had access to leak documents for months without the U.S. knowing. Considering a low-ranked official has access to hundreds of documents, the government has begun to re-evaluate who has access to their classified information. 

Teixeira was arrested and charged with alleged unauthorized removal, retention and transmission of classified national defense information. The commander in Teixeira’s unit has been fired following an investigation of the leaked documents. While the investigation continues, I hope this prompts the U.S. to reevaluate its cybersecurity safety to stop the leakage of top-secret documents.