A brushfire of leaked secrets sputters out on the battlefield

Jack Teixeira's Pentagon leaks aren't exactly helping Russia's aggression in Ukraine

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published April 29, 2023 8:00AM (EDT)

Jack Teixeira | Ukraine Flag (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Jack Teixeira | Ukraine Flag (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Top secret documents leaked by a single airman stationed at an intelligence unit on Cape Cod have rattled the Pentagon, raising questions about the security of U.S. military secrets.  How could 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, a so-called Air Force "cyber transport system specialist," have had access to some of the most sensitive military information on the planet?  How was he able to spread it around the internet for so long without being caught?  Where were U.S. security experts at the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Agency (NSA) when this was going on?

All of these questions are important, and some of them have begun to be answered.  The New York Times reported recently that Teixeira began spreading important U.S. military secrets as far back as February of last year.  He posted summaries of secret documents on Discord, "a social media platform popular among gamers," the Times reported. About 600 members of a chat group on the platform had access to the secrets.  Teixeira's first leaks of the top secret material began only two days after Russia had launched its attack on Ukraine and included information about Ukrainian and Russian casualties, as well as details about aid provided to Ukraine from NATO countries including the U.S. Teixeira told members of the Discord chat group that he had access to secrets that came from the American intelligence community. 

It is unknown how much information Teixeira put on the Discord chat group between February 2022 and early April of this year when he was caught and arrested by an FBI swat team.  The Times reported that some of the data from the images found on Discord match the date of messages on Teixeira's Facebook page when members of his family wished him happy birthday on December 21 of last year, so apparently he had been leaking secrets throughout that time.  Other documents found on another Discord chat group run by Teixeira called "Thug Shaker Central" had dates from January, February and March of this year.

Neither the Pentagon nor any of the U.S. intelligence agencies have released information about how Teixeira was able to get away with spreading the leaked secrets or why security agencies like the FBI were unable to detect the release of the secret data or catch Teixeira earlier, so we'll have to wait for that information to be released if and when that ever comes to pass.  

Most of the information Teixeira leaked was about supply missions that had already occurred or battles that had already been fought. Secrets in the past tense are essentially historical documents.

Perhaps the most important question of all about the apparently massive leak of U.S. national security secrets is what effect the spread of that sensitive information has had on Ukraine's fight against Russian aggression. In the galaxy of secrets countries keep, secrets about military capabilities and preparations or execution of war plans are the most sensitive.

Ukraine has made a point of denying that the leaks have materially affected its war against Russia's army. 

"The leaked files 'have no operational significance,'" Mykhailo Podolyak told the Wall Street Journal recently.  Podolyak is a top adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. "They have no impact on the front line or the planning of the General Staff," he said. 

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Two factors may have influenced the low level of Ukrainian anxiety about the leaks. The first is that nearly all of the leaked documents that have come to light are after-the-fact assessments of the situation on the battlefield and levels of casualties suffered by both sides. Many of the documents leaked by Teixeira appeared to be photographs of slides or pages from so-called briefing books for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. In general, senior officers at the Pentagon are briefed on battlefield situations that have recently happened. When the briefing information is about planning for future operations, including plans to resupply the Ukrainian military, release of that data could seriously damage Ukraine's efforts on the battlefield. But most of the information Teixeira leaked was about supply missions that had already occurred or battles that had already been fought.  Secrets in the past tense are essentially historical documents, in other words. 

The other factor is the nature of the information itself. Briefings for top-level military officials happen far from the front lines and deal in information way above the level of soldiers fighting on the front lines. If a leaked top secret document, for example, revealed that Russia had stepped up its artillery strikes on Bakhmut, the Ukrainian soldiers on the ground in that beleaguered city would have either already experienced the attacks, or they would probably be aware that the attacks were coming via intelligence shared with them from satellite imagery that reaches the front lines electronically, coming all the way from the NSA in Maryland, where it is gathered and analyzed.

The U.S. has been supplying Ukraine with up-to-the-minute information from CIA sources and NSA intercepts and satellite optical intelligence since before the war began. The supply of that intelligence is ongoing as we speak, as the saying goes. Information in briefing books, even top secret data intended for the eyes of generals and admirals, is older than the satellite images and location data being shared with Ukrainian soldiers on the ground. Events move so quickly when bullets, artillery rounds and rockets are flying on a battlefield that an hour on the front lines is like living through a day in real life. A day in a war is equivalent to a week back home, and surviving a week under fire is like living through an epoch.

Information grows old quickly in a war. Secrets, by their nature, have a very brief shelf life. It's never good for military commanders to lose control of information they are using to fight a war, but for soldiers on the front lines, information from afar is less important than what they can see with their own eyes. 

Some of the best intelligence being gathered in Ukraine comes from small drones that are launched by soldiers just behind the front lines where hand-held monitors show them what the enemy is doing at that very moment.  CNN reported this week from a bunker near Bakhmut that drone imagery gathered by Ukrainian soldiers has revealed the chaos among Russian soldiers fighting against them. 

"Often they shoot at each other," one drone operator told CNN. "They fight amongst themselves, too. They live like they do at home back in Russia."

That kind of information cannot be stolen and leaked by the likes of an airman first class in Massachusetts.  Knowing such intelligence about your enemy is the way you win a war.

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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