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News / Nation & World

Guardsman in leak case wanted to kill a ‘ton of people’: US

By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER, ERIC TUCKER and TARA COPP, Associated Press
Published: April 27, 2023, 1:50pm

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — The Massachusetts Air National guardsman accused of leaking highly classified military documents kept an arsenal of guns and said on social media that he would like to kill a “ton of people,” prosecutors said in arguing Thursday that 21-year-old Jack Teixeira should remain in jail for his trial.

But the judge at Teixeira’s detention hearing put off an immediate decision whether he should be kept in custody until his trial or released to home confinement or under other conditions. Teixeira was led away from the court in handcuffs, black rosary beads around his neck, pending that ruling.

The court filings raise new questions about why Teixeira had such a high security clearance and access to some of the nation’s most classified secrets. They said he may still have material that hasn’t been released, which could be of “tremendous value to hostile nation states that could offer him safe harbor and attempt to facilitate his escape from the United States.”

In Teixeira’s detention hearing, Magistrate Judge David Hennessy expressed skepticism of defense arguments that the government hasn’t shown Teixeira ever intended leaked information to be widely disseminated.

“Somebody under the age of 30 has no idea that when they put something on the internet that it could end up anywhere in this world?” the judge asked. “Seriously?”

Teixeira entered his hearing in Worcester in orange prison garb, smiling at his father in the front row. His handcuffs were removed before he sat down and put back on when he was taken out.

One possibility is that the judge could order Teixeira to be confined at his father’s home while awaiting trial, if not held in jail. Under questioning at the hearing, his father, Jack Michael Teixeira, said he was aware that if his son were to violate conditions of release or home confinement, he’d have to report him. The elder Teixeira said he owns firearms but no longer has any in his home.

“You have a young man before you who didn’t flee, has nowhere to flee,” said Brendan Kelley, the defendant’s lawyer. “He will answer the charges, he will be judged by his fellow citizens”

But Nadine Pellegrini, chief of national security division in the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office, told the judge the information prosecutors submitted to the court about the defendant’s threatening words and behavior “is not speculation, it is not hyperbole, nor is it the creation of a caricature. It is based on what we know to date … directly based upon the words and actions of this defendant.”

The prosecution’s filing contains a review of what it says are Teixeira social media posts, stating in November that he would “kill a (expletive) ton of people” if he had his way, because it would be “culling the weak minded.”

Late Wednesday, the Air Force announced it suspended the commander of the 102nd Intelligence Support Squadron where Teixeira worked and the administrative commander “overseeing the support for the unit mobilized under federal orders,” pending further investigation. It also temporarily removed each leader’s access to classified systems and information.

Court papers urging a federal judge to keep Teixeira in custody detailed a troubling history going back to high school, where he was suspended when a classmate overheard him discussing Molotov cocktails and other weapons as well as racial threats. More recently, prosecutors said, he used his government computer to research past mass shootings and standoffs with federal agents.

He remains a grave threat to national security and a flight risk, prosecutors wrote, and investigators are still trying to determine whether he kept any physical or digital copies of classified information, including files that haven’t already surfaced publicly.

“There simply is no condition or combination of conditions that can ensure the Defendant will not further disclose additional information still in his knowledge or possession,” prosecutors wrote. “The damage the Defendant has already caused to the U.S. national security is immense. The damage the Defendant is still capable of causing is extraordinary.”

Teixeira has been in jail since his arrest earlier this month on charges stemming from the most consequential intelligence leak in years.

Teixeira has been charged under the Espionage Act with unauthorized retention and transmission of classified national defense information. He has not yet entered a plea.

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His lawyers are urging the judge to release him from jail, arguing in court papers filed Thursday that appropriate conditions can be set even if the court finds him to be a flight risk — such as confinement at his father’s home and location monitoring.

The defense said Teixeira no longer has access to any top-secret information and accused prosecutors of providing “little more than speculation that a foreign adversary will seduce Mr. Teixeira and orchestrate his clandestine escape from the United States.”

“The government’s allegations … offer no support that Mr. Teixeira currently, or ever, intended any information purportedly to the private social media server to be widely disseminated,” they wrote. “Thus, its argument that Mr. Teixeira will continue to release information or destroy evidence if not detained rings hollow.”

Prosecutors wrote in their filing that he kept his gun locker within reach of his bed and in it were handguns, bolt-action rifles, shotguns, an AK-style high-capacity weapon, and a gas mask.

They said FBI special agents also found ammunition and tactical pouches on his dresser, what appeared to be a silencer-style accessory in his desk drawer and a military-style helmet in the dumpster with a mounting bracket such as that used for a camera.

He is accused of distributing highly classified documents about top national security issues in a chat room on Discord, a social media platform that started as a hangout for gamers. The leak stunned military officials, sparked an international uproar and raised fresh questions about America’s ability to safeguard its secrets.

The leaked documents appear to detail U.S. and NATO aid to Ukraine and U.S. intelligence assessments regarding U.S. allies that could strain ties with those nations. Some show real-time details from February and March of Ukraine’s and Russia’s battlefield positions and precise numbers of battlefield gear lost and newly flowing into Ukraine from its allies.

Prosecutors wrote that Teixeira, who owned multiple guns, repeatedly had “detailed and troubling discussions about violence and murder” on the platform where authorities say he shared the documents. In February, he told another person that he was tempted to make a minivan into an “assassination van,” prosecutors wrote.

The Justice Department’s filing outlines a pattern of troubling behavior that officials say began well before he entered the military and continued in recent months, even as his position afforded him access to government secrets.

In 2018, prosecutors allege, Teixeira was suspended after a classmate “overheard him make remarks about weapons, including Molotov cocktails, guns at the school, and racial threats.” His initial application for a firearms identification card that same year was denied due to police department concerns over those remarks.

He applied again over the next two years, and cited in his 2020 application after joining the Guard “his position of trust in the United States government as a reason he could be trusted to possess a firearm,” prosecutors wrote.

The Justice Department said that it has also learned through its investigation that Teixeira in July used his government computer to look up a series of U.S. mass shootings and government standoffs, including the terms “Ruby Ridge,” “Las Vegas shooting,” “Mandalay Bay shooting,” “Uvalde” and “Buffalo tops shooting” — an apparent reference to the 2022 racist mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket.

The searches of mass shootings on a government computer should have triggered the computer to generate an immediate referral to security, which could have then led to a more in-depth review of Teixeira’s file, according to Dan Meyer, a lawyer who specializes in military, federal employment and security clearance issues. The Air Force’s investigation will probably discover whether a referral was generated — and whether security officers did anything with the information.

Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder declined to discuss the specifics of Teixeira’s case. “We do want to allow the investigation to run its course to get the facts,” Ryder said.

He told a press briefing that when people using Defense Department computers or phones try to access sites they shouldn’t, they get a banner alert and notifications go to their supervisors or security officers. “You are subject to monitoring,” Ryder said.

Teixeira’s lawyers said he has no criminal history and would have no access to guns if he were released. The incident at his high school was “thoroughly investigated” and he was allowed to come back after a few days and a psychological evaluation, they wrote. That investigation was “fully known and vetted ” by the Air National Guard before he enlisted and when he obtained his top secret security clearance, they said.

Months later, after news outlets began reporting on the documents leak, Teixeira took steps to destroy evidence after news outlets began reporting on it. Authorities who searched a dumpster at his home found a smashed laptop, tablet and Xbox gaming console, they said.

Authorities have not alleged a motive. Members of the Discord group have described Teixeira as someone looking to show off, rather than being motivated by a desire to inform the public about U.S. military operations or to influence American policy.

Billing records the FBI obtained from Discord were among the things that led authorities to Teixeira, who enlisted in the Air National Guard in September 2019. A Discord user told the FBI that a username linked to Teixeira began posting what appeared to be classified information roughly in December.

Teixeira was detected on April 6 — the day The New York Times first published a story about the breach of documents — searching for the word “leak” in a classified system, according to court papers. The FBI says that was reason to believe Teixeira was trying to find information about the investigation into who was responsible for the leaks.

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