The culprit responsible for the largest and most damaging leak of top secret US intelligence information since Edward Snowden, appears to have been a low-to mid-level intelligence analyst at a US military facility. Unlike Snowden, he had no lofty goals. He was not a whistleblower. He didn’t have a cause or a crusade. He was simply a guy who created a Discord channel for his bros so they could trade shop talk about guns and God; along with enjoying comradeship during the dark depressing days of the COVID pandemic.
The banality of the source of the leaked documents and the methods he used to steal and photograph them is astonishing. A young guy, who the other members of the channel looked up to as a father-figure, wanted to impress his buddies. So he smuggled a trove of the most valuable secrets the US government has, out of the intelligence site where he worked, photographed them at his home, then uploaded them to Discord where…he was ignored. He had to beg other members to read the files and was peeved when they didn’t show respect for what he’d done.
It’s also astonishing that while the channel was private, there were members from around the world and most notably, Russia and Ukraine! The Washington Post report indicates that one particular member leaked the documents to another YouTube channel, from which it was disseminated finally to the world. The identity of the member who uploaded the secret files to YouTube isn’t yet known.
CORRECTION/UPDATE: The NY Times now reports that the suspected leaker is 21 year old, Jack Teixeira, Airman First Class in the Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. I find it astonishing that standards in the National Guard are so lax as to both allow him to enlist at all given his political views; and give him almost unrestricted access to some of America’s most closely guarded secrets.
All this raises the question: given that OG was clearly a white supremacist, anti-Semite, what is he doing with a high-level security clearance? You mean to tell me that the NSA or security contractor he worked for, couldn’t do a background check and determine he was running a gun-nut hate group, first on YouTube, then on Discord?
The Post discovered all this by identifying a boy who was a member of the channel. He is a minor–another astonishing element of this story. Also, while the boy knows the name of the leaker he calls OG, the FBI did not, as of publication of the article. Nor had the FBI contacted the boy at all. The idea that the Washington Post tracked down this story ahead of all the combined assets of the FBI and federal government, is also simply astonishing (I apologize for using that word, but I simply can’t think of another). Kudos and a Pulitzer to the Post!
Israeli and US Leakers and Whistleblowers
One of the earliest stories of Americans who leaked US secrets was Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. By most accounts, Julius received documents (of little actual technical value) regarding the US nuclear weapons work at Los Alamos and passed them to the Soviets. He did this, as other Americans did because, first of all, they were Communists who believed in the Soviet Union; and because they believed that it was dangerous for the US to have a nuclear weapons monopoly. They were right on that score. We are the only country to have used nuclear weapons; and once the Soviets developed their own, there have been no further uses of this catastrophic weapon. Though the US executed the Rosenbergs as spies, they too were in a sense whistleblowers, and paid with their lives for their devotion.
I too was privy to top secret FBI transcripts of the DC Israeli embassy. I was approached by Shammai Leibowitz, who was translating the wiretap conversations of Israeli diplomats for the FBI. He was deeply concerned about a campaign to arouse US public opinion in favor of attacking Iran. I published some of this in the Guardian and here. The embassy eventually discovered the leak and the FBI also discovered Shammai’s activities. He was arrested, convicted, and spent two years in a federal prison. The Obama Justice Department treated such whistleblowers more harshly than any previous administration. Doing so was a shameful exercise of government power against federal government employees who leak to journalists. Leibowitz has denied my account, even though it was confirmed by a front-page NY Times story He offered a conflicting version of why he went to prison.
Government secrecy is a myth, both in US and Israel
One of the major lessons to learn here is that governments around the world spend hundreds of billions, maybe even trillions to amass, store and protect their most precious state secrets. But the veil is penetrated almost effortlessly by individuals like Chelsea Manning, Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden, and Reality Winner. While they are certainly intelligent, they are not evil masterminds. Nor are they polished spies. They are simply mid-level drones who grew disgusted with the secrets to which they were privy, and decided they had to expose them to the world. Despite massive protocols designed to ensure the inviolability of the intelligence apparatus, a guy with a security clearance and a liking for online video games can bring the whole thing tumbling down.
I learned of the damage of government secrecy regarding the Israeli security state. It also guards its intelligence secrets carefully. Unlike the US, it can invoke military censorship and judicial gag orders to prevent Israelis from learning what the Shin Bet, Mossad and IDF does in their names. Nevertheless, it too has cracks, sometimes a mile wide, through which top-secret data leaks. It also has its whistleblowers who are treated comparatively more harshly than in the US.
Anat Kamm opposed targeted killings of unarmed Palestinian militants by the IDF Central Command, and leaked secret documents from the commanding general’s office to Haaretz. She was secretly arrested by the Shin Bet, which forbade Israeli journalists from reporting the story. When I learned her identity, I reported it here because I object to such abuse of government powers. Authorities threatened to charge her with espionage. But she was convicted of a lesser criminal offense and went to prison. The journalist, Uri Blau, received a light sentence of community service. But he later left Israel and now pursues his career in the US.
Capt. Tomer Eiges, whose identity I first reported here, also became a sacrifice on the altar of Israeli national security. He was an officer in the IDF’s SIGNIT Unit 8200. It is the largest unit in the army and uses the most advanced cyber-war techniques to spy on and sabotage Israel’s enemies. He was arrested and imprisoned, where he eventually either committed suicide or was murdered. The army chief of staff blamed him for unintentionally gravely damaging Israeli national security. Knowing what I know about such claims, I don’t believe it for a minute. Eiges may or may not have been a whistleblower, but he was a victim of the military-intelligence apparatus’ cult of secrecy.
But the most notorious and cruel whistleblower incident involved Mordechai Vanunu, who smuggled photos of the Dimona reactor out of Israel, where they were published by the Times. Vanunu was caught in a honeypot sting, drugged, kidnapped by the Mossad, returned to Israel, tried, convicted and imprisoned. He remains, decades after completing his sentence, under a virtual lifetime ban from leaving the country. He is surveilled around the clock, and prohibited from talking to any journalist. That is the price an Israeli whistleblower pays.
One of the major sources for the stories I broke for years was former IDF general and defense minister, Binyamin Ben Eliezer. He needn’t worry about being arrested since he knew where every body was buried. He was a peer of the most powerful figures. They didn’t dare touch him. His death was a blow not only to his family, but to the critical reporting of intelligence secrets here. One of many was Israel’s bombing of a major IRG missile base.
Thankfully, there are Israelis who object to this cult of secrecy; who believe in transparency; that secrets should only be maintained to save lives, but not to save reputations or spare embarrassment. These are the courageous ones who provide me many of the stories I break here. I am no hero. They take the chances. I am a their conduit. It is a precious partnership.
A final word on government secrecy. While I am skeptical about it and the overreach employed in maintaining it, I feel far differently about privacy. Secrecy is a government keeping data under wraps. Privacy is an individual maintaining his or her own life, free to make their own decisions and pursue their interests, without intrusion or interference from outsiders–like the intelligence agencies discussed here. Privacy is sacrosanct; though governments routinely violate it, with disastrous results for victims.