“We still don’t know who this guy was talking to outside of the Discord server and if he had any other intention for leaking the documents beyond wanting to impress friends,” said a fourth person — a former U.S. intelligence official.
It’s standard practice for investigators to examine a suspect’s potential ties to foreign governments and entities, especially in leak cases, said Mick Mulroy, a former top Pentagon official and retired CIA officer. Defense Department and CIA employees are required to disclose any “close and continuous” contact with foreigners, he noted.
If they find any foreign links it would mean the leak is likely even more damaging than believed. It could signify that it was orchestrated by a foreign government, or that materials were available to foreign officials well before they became public knowledge.
A foreign connection could also open Teixeira up to more charges.
So far, Teixeira has been charged with “unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information” and “unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material.” Each charge carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
According to court documents, Teixeira violated two sections of the Espionage Act. If the government were to establish probable cause, it could add another charge for Teixeira under a separate section of the act that deals with gathering or delivering defense information to aid a foreign government.
The former U.S. intelligence official said that is unlikely to happen at this stage.
The Justice Department is leading the investigation into Teixeira. The Pentagon and the intelligence agencies are also looking into the breach.
The Defense Department closely monitors any employee’s activity on the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communication System, the secure intranet system that houses top secret and sensitive information, including what information is accessed, downloaded and printed.
The Pentagon is also reviewing Teixeira’s records, including his security clearance as part of the investigation, according to one of the people familiar with the probe. DoD hopes that the review will help it decide if changes to procedures regarding access to classified documents need to be made, the person said.
Teixeira is an IT specialist assigned to the 102nd Intelligence Wing, giving him access to the computers of analysts tasked with packaging intelligence for senior military commanders, said a fifth person, a Defense Department official.
The FBI and Justice Department declined to comment. The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to a request for comment.
Some press reporting in recent days has suggested that people from other countries were members of the original server where Teixeira allegedly posted the documents. Others, however, have rejected that assertion. In an interview with The Washington Post, one of Teixeira’s friends said any suggestion that the server’s members were Russian or Ukrainian was “pure fabrication.”
According to another report by The Washington Post, users who interacted with Teixeira on Discord, the social media platform where the documents appeared, thought he posted the materials partly to educate them on how the U.S. government operates in the world and partly to show off his access.
Understanding Teixeira’s motivation is also important for the government in determining how to prevent such leaks in the future.
The leak allegedly carried out by Teixeira is different from past breaches of intelligence, including those perpetrated by Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks. Teixeira is accused of disseminating the documents on social media, instead of packaging and filtering them through the press, and did not appear to publish the intelligence as a result of a specific ideology.
Teixeira allegedly posted the documents to a Discord server last year. In recent weeks, a member of that server posted them to a second Discord group before they began to circulate more widely on other social media sites, including Telegram and Twitter.
The leaked documents include extraordinary detail on troop and battlefield movements by both Kyiv and Moscow in Ukraine as well as other global issues such as Iran’s development of its nuclear program, protests in Israel and China’s relationship with Russia. They also expose the extent to which the U.S. spies on its adversaries and allies.
While POLITICO and many other media outlets have obtained and reviewed more than 50 of the classified documents, there appear to be perhaps dozens of other documents that have not been posted publicly on social media. The Washington Post and The New York Times have exposed several of those documents in recent days.
At least one of the documents posted on Telegram appears to have been altered to include higher Ukrainian and lower Russian death tolls, according to a document reviewed by POLITICO. It’s unclear who altered the documents.
A woman who recently ended her enlisted service in the U.S. Navy told The Wall Street Journal that she oversaw the Telegram channel where the altered documents were posted. That woman, 37-year-old Sarah Bils, has previously posted pro-Russian content on social media but denied having altered the classified document. She also told the Journal she deleted the documents from the channel as soon as she noticed they had been posted.
In an email to POLITICO, Bils said: “I didn’t leak the documents and had no part in that. You’re asking the wrong entity. [The documents] were never in my possession at all.”
While Bils’ link to the spread of the classified documents on other social media sites raises questions about her potential involvement in their alteration, there is no apparent connection between the former sailor and Teixeira.