It’s Been Going On for a Year and Our Intelligence Array Didn’t Notice?
All week, a mystery had lingered about who stood to gain from the released photos of classified documents that have threatened intelligence about the war in Ukraine and that certainly have proved embarrassing to the United States.
We appear to have the answer. After reports in The Washington Post and The New York Times published stories pointing to him, the FBI arrested Jack Texeira, 21, a Massachusetts Air National Guardsman, naming him as a leader of the leaking group.
According to a friend of his who spoke with The Post, the miscreant is “is a young, charismatic gun enthusiast who shared highly classified documents with a group of far-flung acquaintances searching for companionship amid the isolation of the pandemic.” He goes by the OG, for now.
Per The Post and The Times, for a year or so, OG has been sharing classified information with about two dozen friends who share a love of guns, military gear and God, using an invitation-only clubhouse in 2020 on Discord, an online platform popular with gamers. Social media being just that, the information has leaked out to various other platforms to the point where it was noticed and written about.
Apparently, that’s how the government found out about the leaks, the leaker and the nature of the information being disclosed. Though access to the information from intercepts and electronic surveillance has proved embarrassing, we’re being asked to accept that little to none came from human sources – meaning that no one’s life has been put at risk for spying on behalf of the United States.
What? It’s been going on for a year and our intelligence array didn’t notice?
The Intelligence Black Hole
You mean the government, which spends trillions of dollars on satellites, planting spies, floating balloons, and using disappearing ink or the electronic equivalent, didn’t know about what was being posted on Twitter by a bored group of 20-year-olds?
According to the friends and associates, OG posted for months what appeared to be near-verbatim transcripts of classified intelligence documents that OG indicated he had brought home from his job on the military base as an IT tech with an intelligence unit.
Some document transcripts were annotated, some marked with translations from the argon of intelligence work. OG and his fellow chatters swapped memes, racist jokes, chatted about movies, and prayed. But the friend told The Post that OG also lectured them about world affairs and secretive government operations.
The kicker here is that our intelligence people didn’t see it because they say they weren’t looking at social media among U.S. domestic users.
“Federal government agencies do not proactively monitor online forums looking for threat-related activity,” John Cohen, former acting undersecretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security told Politico.com, which asked about why the leak did not surface until April. “If a person or entity were to post classified information on one of those forums, there’s a high likelihood that government officials would not detect it.”
What to Do
As a result, the Biden administration is looking at expanding how it monitors social media sites and chat rooms, two intelligence officials told NBC News.
From even a scan of the news coverage about the leaks, U.S. intelligence through all its alphabetized maze of agencies has had no problem finding information deep inside the Russian military and spy agencies – or for that matter, the equivalent groups inside allied countries.
The leaked documents have highlighted selective information – some seemingly accurate but many seemingly altered – that show U.S. reach into military operations, weaponry and strategic concerns especially about arming Ukrainian defenses against Russian aggressors.
But the Pentagon, the vast intelligence community and the Justice Department are still scrambling to understand how the leaks happened and how many U.S. secret documents may still be in circulation.
The Discord domain has long been targeted by cybersecurity experts as one being used by criminals and hackers to spread malware and stealthy transfer of stolen information. Photographs of some documents first appeared on Discord channels focused on a computer game and followers of a minor YouTube celebrity, before making their way to 4Chan, Telegram, and Twitter.
So, questions abound about who is looking or not at our own social media, for what purpose, and with what balance for privacy and individual free speech rights as opposed to open blatant distribution of the nation’s secrets.
“We do not have, nor do we want a system where the United States government monitors private internet chats,” said Glenn Gerstell, former general counsel of the National Security, told Politico, noting that U.S. law prevents such searches.
Quite apart from this arrest, the hole in the system ought to be one we can fix.
INTERESTED IN SUPPORTING PARTICIPATORY CIVIC MEDIA? IF SO, PLEASE CONSIDER A DONATION TODAY