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Leak Plugged

A 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts National Air Guard is arrested for allegedly retaining and transmitting classified material.

Happy Monday! Now that Andrew has his own newsletter and doesn’t edit TMD in the morning, we are free to post all the St. Louis Cardinals slander we want. They’re fourth out of five teams in the N.L. Central, their manager is feuding with one of their star players, and their new catcher—whom they paid $87.5 million—is currently the eighth-worst hitter in all of baseball. Go Cubs! [Editor: The Brewers are in first place in the NL Central, ahead of the Cubs and Cardinals.]

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Violence erupted across Sudan over the weekend as the military and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary group grappled for control of key areas, including the presidential palace and airport in the capital city of Khartoum. At least 60 civilians have been killed—and 600 more injured—in the clashes between the formerly allied groups who executed a 2021 coup that derailed Sudan’s transition to democracy. Officials from China, Russia, and the U.S. have all called for peace in a rare show of unity among the three powers.
  • A rebel militia killed 42 people in three towns across eastern Congo on Friday, the Congolese military confirmed. The attacks, allegedly at the hands of CODECO fighters, come as the region deals with a spike in long-simmering ethnic tensions.
  • North Korea confirmed Friday it had tested a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which set off an evacuation alert on Hokkaido island in northern Japan on Thursday before falling into the sea east of the Korean peninsula. The test  represents a technological advance allowing the country to launch missiles more quickly, since the updated missiles can be fueled at manufacturing and sit on alert for much longer than ICBMs requiring liquid fuel.
  • A Moscow court on Monday sentenced Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza to 25 years in prison after finding him guilty of treason for his criticism of the war in Ukraine. “I’m in jail for my political views. For speaking out against the war in Ukraine. For many years of struggle against Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship,” Kara-Murza said in the closing remarks of his trial last week. “Not only do I not repent of any of this, I am proud of it.”
  • Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has fallen “seriously ill” in the Russian prison where he’s being held, according to members of his Anti-Corruption Foundation. An ambulance was reportedly called for Navalny earlier this month, but he received no medication to treat severe stomach pains. A spokeswoman for his organization said he has lost 18 pounds in about two weeks and alleged he was being “administered low doses of poison” while behind bars. 
  • France’s Constitutional Council approved President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reform plan on Friday, clearing the way for him to sign the bill into law on Saturday. The development sparked another round of violent protests, and trade union leaders—who have remained united in opposition to the law—rebuffed the government’s offer to meet with Macron this week. 
  • The Energy Department last week approved exports of liquefied natural gas from Alaska to countries—mostly in Asia—with which the U.S. does not have a free trade agreement. The project, originally greenlit by former President Donald Trump’s administration, is expected to be up and running—pending permits—by 2030, and could help the U.S. compete with Russian natural gas sales.
  • The Justice Department announced charges on Friday against 28 members of the powerful transnational Sinaloa cartel, including several sons of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The individuals, indicted in three districts, face a number of narcotics, money laundering, and firearms charges that are aimed at dismantling the cartel’s global network of fentanyl manufacturing and trafficking. “Families and communities across our country are being devastated by the fentanyl epidemic,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland. “We will never forget those who bear responsibility for this tragedy. And we will never stop working to hold them accountable for their crimes in the United States.” Seven of the defendants are in custody pending extradition proceedings, according to the DOJ.
  • In a unanimous decision last week, the Supreme Court held that litigants wishing to contest a federal agency’s decision are not obligated to go through that agency’s adjudication process and can instead go straight to federal court. “The question presented is whether the district courts have jurisdiction to hear those suits—and so to resolve the parties’ constitutional challenges to the Commissions’ structure,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority opinion in Axon v. Federal Trade Commission. “The answer is yes.”
  • Justice Samuel Alito issued an order Friday halting a lower court’s ruling that would have restricted access to the abortion drug mifepristone. The administrative stay, meant to maintain the status quo while justices examine the briefs and lower court rulings on a challenge to the drug’s 2000 Food and Drug Administration approval, will expire at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday.
  • The Commerce Department reported Friday that U.S. retail sales fell 1 percent month-over-month in March, the second straight month of decline. The data suggests higher interest rates are starting to affect consumers, who spent less on goods like cars, furniture, and appliances.
  • Montana legislators voted 54-43 last week to ban the video app TikTok, making Montana the first state to attempt to implement a total ban of the Chinese-owned app. If signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, the legislation would prohibit the app from operating in the state and bar app stores from offering it to users beginning in January. Individual users would not be punished for using the app, but a $10,000 fine would be assessed for any entity violating the measure.
  • Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced Thursday new restrictions on gender transition procedures for both minors and adults, making Missouri the first state to limit access for people over 18. The rule will require patients to undergo 18 months of therapy—and demonstrate they’ve been experiencing medically documented gender dysphoria for at least three consecutive years—before beginning any gender transition procedures. The rule—which LGBTQ activists have vowed to challenge—comes as the AG’s office investigates Washington University’s Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital after a whistleblower claimed earlier this year the clinic was not appropriately informing patients of the effects of treatment.
  • Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday he will not run for president in 2024. In an interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier, he added that he would wait to make an endorsement in the GOP primary, saying “it might not be” former President Trump who earns his support. “I think Americans are thirsting for people making arguments, not just tweets.”

Putting the NatSec Toothpaste Back in the Tube

Dighton police cars block Maple Street in North Dighton, Mass., half a mile from the house where Airman Jack Teixeira was arrested for sharing classified documents. (Photo by Kylie Cooper for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Dighton police cars block Maple Street in North Dighton, Mass., half a mile from the house where Airman Jack Teixeira was arrested for sharing classified documents. (Photo by Kylie Cooper for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Join the Massachusetts Air National Guard, its website declares, and you can choose from a thrilling menu of more than 200 career fields for missions involving intelligence, surveillance, and cyber engineering. “No matter what you’re interested in,” the home page promises, “there’s a good chance you’ll find it here.” Rarely has a marketing pitch been so unfortunately true.

While he was a member of the guard, 21-year-old Jack Teixeira found exactly what he was interested in—allegedly downloading and sharing hundreds of pages of highly classified material about the war in Ukraine and American surveillance activities. His motivations for doing so aren’t yet entirely clear, but he’s been arrested and charged with unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information and unauthorized removal of classified material.

As we reported last week, classified documents began surfacing in early March on digital platforms like 4chan, Telegram, and Twitter. They included information on troop movements in Ukraine and intelligence collected on the United States’ enemies and allies. Administration officials have claimed a few of the documents had been altered or doctored in some way, but they’re generally operating as if the materials are legitimate. And in addition to providing adversaries hints about the United States’ intelligence capabilities, the documents’ leak has strained relationships with allies—including South Korea and Israel—who were featured in the papers.

The FBI—and investigative journalists—were able to trace the papers back to an online Discord chat group called “Thug Shaker Central,” where about two dozen members discussed God and guns and shared racist slurs about many groups—though not Russians. According to charging documents, Teixeira paid for the Discord account associated with the leaks using his real name and his mother’s home address. From that account, the FBI says, he shared at least one document to which he had access through his job, where he’d held a top secret security clearance since 2021. 

Teixeira reportedly began posting classified material in December, first typing it out and then—worried about getting caught transcribing while at work—taking the material home and sharing what appeared to be photos of classified maps and briefing materials. Members of the Discord server told the Washington Post Teixeira wanted to inform them about the war and “loved America but simply didn’t feel confident in its future.”

Another member of the “Thug Shaker Central” group started to share the files elsewhere on the internet, and they quickly began to spread. And when news of the leak surfaced on April 6, Teixeira allegedly searched within a classified government database for the word “leak”—likely, according to the affidavit, to see if the U.S. Intelligence Community had any leads on the identity of the leaker. As news choppers circled over his home on Thursday and FBI agents wielding rifles closed in, Teixeira appeared to sit on the back deck wearing red gym shorts and reading a thick book.

If convicted, Teixeira faces up to 15 years in prison. “[This is about] both the unlawful retention and the transmission of the documents,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday. “There are very serious penalties associated with that. People who sign agreements to be able to receive classified documents acknowledge the importance to the national security of not disclosing those documents, and we intend to send that message of how important it is to our national security.”

Teixeira may be young and low-ranking, but his work managing networks likely gave him broad access to systems carrying classified material. Edward Snowden, for instance, was a federal contractor working on systems administration when he leaked a trove of National Security Agency documents. But Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder pointed out the military often gives significant tasks to young servicemembers. “We entrust our members with a lot of responsibility at a very early age,” Ryder said. “Think about a young combat platoon sergeant and the responsibility and trust that we put into those individuals to lead troops into combat.” Still, that access doesn’t necessarily explain why security officials didn’t more quickly notice Teixeira’s leaks.

Most lawmakers have been highly critical of the leaker—but not all of them. “Teixeira is white, male, christian, and antiwar,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a member of the Homeland Security Committee and close adviser to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, tweeted Thursday. “That makes him an enemy to the Biden regime.” Greene suggested the “real enemy” is the Biden administration for “waging war in Ukraine,” suggesting it’s dishonorable to keep the type of information Teixeira allegedly leaked secret. Meanwhile, Fox News host Tucker Carlson also sided with Teixeira. “Tonight the news media are celebrating the capture of the kid who told Americans what’s actually happening in Ukraine,” Carlson said last week

Of particular note to this crowd was a document, dated February 28, purporting to show that 97 special operations forces from five NATO countries were in Ukraine—including 14 from the United States. Two U.S. officials have since told ABC News the small special operations team has been based out of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv since early in the war—primarily to provide security for VIPs and assist with intelligence sharing—and does not leave the embassy to join Ukrainian troops on the front lines.

Comments from the Greene/Carlson faction of the GOP may influence their fans—potentially encouraging future leaks—but they’re in the distinct minority. “There are military members serving today from Georgia and other places who are less safe because of what this airman did,” Sen. Lindsey Graham told ABC News on Sunday. “For any member of Congress to suggest it’s okay to leak classified information because you agree with the cause is terribly irresponsible and puts America in serious danger.”

Teixeira’s alleged leak has also highlighted the ever-present challenge of effective security checks. More than 1 million Americans have security clearances, which require background investigations focused on discovering “derogatory information” like foreign government influence, criminal behavior, or potential pressure points like debt or substance abuse. As a young man with a reportedly clean background, there’s no obvious reason Teixeira should have failed that check.

But as recently unearthed videos of Teixeira shouting racist and antisemitic slurs while firing a rifle demonstrate, online chat rooms can host a trove of concerning activity a typical background check wouldn’t be able to catch even with a review of publicly available social media profiles. “It’s one thing to go check people’s tweets and YouTube and see whether [they’re] speaking at some white supremacist rally somewhere,” said Michael Allen, managing director of the international security firm Beacon Global Strategies and a national security official in the second Bush administration. “It’s quite another on an obscure chat room when your name is obscured and your picture’s not there.”

The Pentagon has tightened the circle of people who can access the type of classified information Teixeira allegedly leaked—though officials declined to say by exactly how much—and is conducting a damage assessment. Previous leaks have forced changes in security procedures, but reforms take time and wrangling over details. “It’s damn near impossible because there’s so many conflicting visions about secrecy and compartmentation,” Allen said, adding that political willpower for reform may fade along with headlines. “People lose interest in all this stuff because it’s much sexier to talk about the Ukrainian war or whatever the heck the Chinese are doing.”

Worth Your Time

  • For the tenth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, Mark Arsenault and Hanna Krueger penned a moving piece for the Boston Globe looking at some of the lives touched by that day. “What becomes clear now, in a moment of reflection after 10 years, is that time gives contours to our pain and grief,” they write. “Some deeply affected by the bombing didn’t want to speak at all at this anniversary, and, in fact, are dreading it. For others, though, time unlocks doors to conversations that wouldn’t have, couldn’t have happened 10 years ago, revealing pain and vulnerability that diverge from the ‘Boston Strong’ narrative. Nolan Cleary is running the Boston Marathon this year. Ten years have passed since Cleary’s parents called him downstairs to tell him the news that Martin Richard had died. The two had been inseparable growing up. Cleary remembers hearing the words, burying his head in his mother’s chest and crying, but still not really grasping what had just happened. Eight-year-olds aren’t wired to understand death. He’s running alongside two other childhood friends, Ava O’Brien and Jack Burke. The trio has been speaking to the press for more than half their lives, for two more years than Richard was given.”
  • The family of detained Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich spoke out last week, giving their first interview since their son was arrested by Russian security services last month and accused of spying for the U.S.—a charge he, the Wall Street Journal, and the U.S. government all deny. Ella and Mikhail Gershkovich, Evan’s parents, fled the Soviet Union separately in 1979, only to meet at work in New York once they arrived in the United States. Evan’s arrest, his mother said, “was just crushing, totally crushing. That experience all came back from the Soviet Union.” She added: “He had so many friends and everything was so nice. We saw Russia through his eyes. It’s like I accepted new Russia.” When his parents visited him in Russia in 2018, his mother recalls saying, “This is the country that I left and this is the country that you love.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: Haley reports on (🔒) new reimbursement rules for members of Congress, Chris offers his thoughts (🔒) on the decision to  hold the 2024 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Nick explores the (🔒) abortion politics of the 2024 GOP presidential primary, and Jonah explains why turning Teixiera into a right-wing icon is bad. “He did it for fun, for a desperately needed boost of self-esteem,” he writes. “But because he fits a moronic right-wing identity politics check list for who counts as the ‘real’ victims of this ‘regime,’ he’s not a villain. He’s a hero.” 
  • On the podcasts: Jonah dives deep into the Pentagon leaks.
  • On the site over the weekend: Eric S. Edelman, Reuel Marc Gerecht, and Ray Takeyh set the record straight on the Iran hostage crisis and the 1980 election, Alec praises the new movie from Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and Guy Denton reviews Depeche Mode’s new album, Memento Mori. 
  • On the site today: Alec explores Twitter’s Chinese government interests and Chris reflects on the authoritarian terror of the Stasi from its former headquarters in Leipzig, Germany. Plus, Bradley Bowman and Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies argue that the time to arm Taiwan is now. 

Let Us Know

Can you think of any theoretical instances where a national security official would be justified in publishing classified material related to U.S. defense and intelligence? Did Teixeira’s leak meet that bar?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.