What Does Secrecy Actually Mean, Anyway?

At the New York Times Aric Toler, Michael Schwirtz, Haley Willis, Riley Mellen, Christiaan Triebert, Malachy Browne, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Julian E. Barnesis report that a young National Guard member is currently a “person of interest” in the leaks of classified documents:

The leader of a small online gaming chat group where a trove of classified U.S. intelligence documents leaked over the last few months is a 21-year-old member of the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The national guardsman, whose name is Jack Teixeira, oversaw a private online group named Thug Shaker Central, where about 20 to 30 people, mostly young men and teenagers, came together over a shared love of guns, racist online memes and video games.

Two U.S. officials confirmed that investigators want to talk to Airman Teixeira about the leak of the government documents to the private online group. One official said Airman Teixeira might have information relevant to the investigation.

Federal investigators have been searching for days for the person who leaked the top secret documents online but have not identified Airman Teixeira or anyone else as a suspect. The F.B.I. declined to comment.

If the individual identified is actually the leaker, it would be beyond incompetent and reckless. Does every member of an intelligence wing of every National Guard unit have materially unrestricted access to such classified materials? What does secrecy mean in that event?

12 comments… add one
  • Andy Link

    “Does every member of an intelligence wing of every National Guard unit have materially unrestricted access to such classified materials? What does secrecy mean in that event?”

    I served in a National Guard Intelligence unit, and they have the same access as any other intelligence unit consistent with their mission. Access is generally controlled by two things:

    – The classification level – Personnel in an intelligence unit, even in the National Guard – is going to have the clearances for this type of stuff. The SCI compartments that I see on the documents are compartments that almost all intelligence personnel have access to.

    – “Need to know” – This is the other control for access to classified. But in reality, an intelligence unit with an intelligence mission will have wide access to information because it’s necessary for the unit mission. This would include the types of products leaked here, which are senior-level briefing materials that are also read widely in the intelligence community. Most everything is networked now, and if you have the login credentials that intel analysts who work in intel units get, then access is pretty liberal – at least in my experience (which is now almost six years old). When I left, the network nazi’s (as we called them) were beginning to restrict access to things like printers and also increasingly moving toward utilizing dumb terminals connected to a central server to preclude people from saving stuff on electronic media. I don’t know the state of those now, but if the early reports are true, and this guy was able to print out a bunch of stuff and walk out of the SCIF with it, it’s going to generate more changes along the lines of the restrictions seen after Manning and Snowden.

    A couple of other points:

    – People will make hay of the fact that this is a National Guard unit and assume that a NG unit would/should not have the same level of access as an active duty unit or a civilian agency. But since 9/11, the Reserve and Guard, especially the intel units, usually have some portion of their personnel on active duty doing real-world missions. This is how the government has “saved money” by turning units that were intended to be a strategic reserve into an operational and tactical reserve. Especially with the amount of ISR allocated against China and especially Russia in the last year, I would not be surprised if this NG unit is doing 24/7 ops in support of that.

    – Secondly, it’s interesting that Aric Toler and others in the open-source community (primarily Bellingcat) identified and traced these documents to this particular individual well before the feds did.

  • steve Link

    The government contracts out almost all of its IT work AFAICT. How good/proficient would the people be who work for the Feds in tracking down this kind of stuff? It seems like it should be a pretty common sort of investigation to do but maybe they dont have the assets or skills?


  • TastyBits Link

    Again, something about this does not seem right.

    I guess we need to toss gamers onto the list of things to hate. I am going to guess that modders are at the top of the list, and anybody who installs a nude mod should not get a security clearance.

  • Andy Link

    It seems the guy didn’t have an intel job – he was reportedly what’s called “comm” in the Air Force, which is the catchall term for network support. Basically, this guy was like Snowden, not an analyst, not an intel person, a support person there to keep all the classified systems running.

  • Andy Link

    So, he was a hardware networking guy.

    Here’s a description of his job:

    I’m really surprised after Snowden they didn’t restrict access to these types of support personnel.

  • Drew Link

    Hmmm. Something stinks here. The war is not going as well as the Admin tells us……………and suddenly there is some nobody to hang?

    Stay tuned.

  • Andy Link


    Don’t fall for that conspiracy theory nonsense – at least until any compelling and firm evidence comes out. I think it’s much, much more likely this is what it appears to be, a dumb kid making a dumb mistake.

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    I theorize why he needs access is because he’s the “local help desk” when “regular users” have system issues — he needs to be in the room to diagnose whether it’s a hardware or user problem and if it’s a hardware problem, that it’s been correctly fixed.

    I emphasize with the situation since access management to “secrets” is an extremely hard problem space.

  • Drew Link


    I know. I haven’t reached any conclusions. But something just isn’t quite right here. I’ve been trying to recall (my memory isn’t what it used to be) a similar situation in the past couple years. Bad press for the Administration and all of the sudden came a distraction and a scapegoat. If I can recall it I will post it in a comment.

    What I think is undeniable is that – as commented upon here and many other places – the line we are being fed about the status of the war is just this side of misinformation. And it again makes clear: what the hell are we really doing there? And why is Biden once again downplaying an event? We have an endless source of gas if we would tap this administration……….

  • Grey Shambler Link

    One clue is that he has already been tagged a racist. Is he politically active?
    I’m not a gamer, but wondering if gamers sometimes lose track of the lines between games and reality.

  • steve Link

    “but wondering if gamers sometimes lose track of the lines between games and reality.”

    Absolutely. I was a fairly serious gamer for a while. Everyone had to occasionally remind people that real life is much different than the game. To be fair to gamers, the same thing goes on with blogs, social media, etc. Having a hard time buying the conspiracy stuff. Besides the fact that it is always wrong its not really clear to me that things are worse now for Biden than at any other time. Also, the info was apparently being leaked out over the last year. If the admin wanted to fake something I think even they would realize using a bunch of teens and a 21 y/o is not a good way to go about it.

    To CO’s point, I suspect there are issues when most fo your senior people may be a lot less computer literate than the younger people.


  • Jan Link

    People frequently call an outlier explanation of an event a “conspiracy theory,” until facts finally arise validating it as an inconvenient truth.

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