A 21-year-old US air national guardsman suspected of leaking highly classified Pentagon files has been arrested in Massachusetts, the US attorney general, Merrick Garland confirmed on Thursday.
Jack Teixeira is believed to have led Thug Shaker Central, an online group where about 20 to 30 people shared their love of guns, racist memes and video games, the New York reported, citing interviews and documents it reviewed.
Garland told reporters that Texeira was arrested “without incident” and would be arraigned later on Thursday in a Massachusetts federal court.
The leaked documents, which were disseminated widely online, have laid bare secrets about Ukraine’s preparations for a spring counteroffensive, US spying on allies, such as South Korea and Israel, and the tensions between Washington and allied capitals over arming Kyiv.
Earlier on Thursday Joe Biden said US authorities were close to catching the leaker. Speaking to reporters outside the Irish president’s residence, where he is on an official visit, the president said: “There’s a full-blown investigation going on, as you know, with the intelligence community and the justice department, and they’re getting close.
“I’m not concerned about the leak,” Biden added. “I’m concerned that it happened. But there’s nothing contemporaneous that I’m aware of that’s of great consequence.”
An increasing volume of evidence points to the leaker being the disaffected young man who claimed to work on a military base and shared photos of the documents on a chat group with about two dozen active members, starting last year and continuing until March.
A teenage member of the internet group that the leaker managed described him to Bellingcat, the investigative journalism organisation, at the weekend, and in more detail to the Washington Post on Wednesday.
He described the leaker, referred to by the initials OG, as a charismatic leader. OG told members of the group that he worked on a military base, where his job involved viewing large amounts of classified information.
The Pentagon has begun tightening the circle of employees and contractors and has promised to review its policy in granting top secret clearance.
Some of the leaked documents are dated as recently as March, and discussed Ukraine’s troop deployments, military vulnerabilities and efforts to arm its forces before a spring counteroffensive.
There is also evidence of US spying on allies, and their reluctance to arm Ukraine, and there is material about Russian forces and decision-making in Moscow that could help the Kremlin better understand the strengths and weaknesses of US intelligence collection efforts in Russia.
Some newly reported documents show knowledge of infighting between the Russian intelligence and the defence ministry. In one document reported by the New York Times, US officials describe how the Federal Security Service (FSB) had “accused the defence ministry of trying to cover up the extent of Russian casualties in Ukraine”.
The FSB said the official statistics did not include the dead and wounded from the national guard or two significant militias involved in combat, the Wagner mercenary force and fighters fielded by the Chechen republic’s warlord leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. The US intelligence assessment was that the spat demonstrated “the continuing reluctance of military officials to convey bad news up the chain of command”.
More details soon …