Pentagon leaker Jack Teixeira is nothing like Edward Snowden: He's more like Donald Trump

Comparing Jack Teixeira to Edward Snowden is grossly misleading at best: Consider their actions and motives

Published May 30, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)

Donald Trump and Jack Teixeira (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump and Jack Teixeira (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Defense lawyers for Jack Teixeira, the Air National Guardsman accused of leaking classified documents using the online gaming site Discord, recently argued that he should get bail because he was no Edward Snowden. Their arguments were misleading at best, and easily contradicted by a simple Google search. They claimed, for example, that "Mr. Snowden fled the [United States] prior to any arrest" and was already in China at the time his documents were leaked to the media.

Snowden didn't "flee the country." When he traveled to Hong Kong on May 10, 2013, there were no criminal charges against him. There was no arrest warrant. He had a valid U.S. passport. He left the United States a free man.

Another glaring, but overlooked, difference between Teixeira's leaks and Snowden's is the question of how each man viewed his actions. Teixeira bragged about breaking the rules, the sensitivity of what he had access to, and the "f**k ton of information" he possessed about U.S. intelligence on countries considered among America's greatest enemies, such as Syria, Iran and China.

Snowden, in contrast, was concerned about the U.S. breaking its own rules through mass domestic surveillance and bulk collection of Americans' phone records — a concern later vindicated by an appeals court. Snowden did not boast about his disclosures or seek credit for them. That's why he initially blew the whistle anonymously under the pseudonym "Citizenfour." 

The most significant differences, however, are that Snowden made his disclosure to independent journalists who could vet the information, not to gamer buddies he was trying to impress, and that Snowden's revelations were clearly in the public interest.

The cruel irony here is that whistleblowers like Snowden continue to be derided as deviant misfits who are out for fame, profit, revenge or self-aggrandizement. In reality, they often end up bankrupted, blacklisted, broken and, in the worst case scenario, imprisoned. Just ask Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, Jeffrey Sterling, Reality Winner and Daniel Hale. Their disclosures revealed gross government misconduct hidden from the public, which makes them far from traitors, and arguably more dedicated to our democracy than the many government officials who knew about the misconduct yet chose to stay quiet.

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Perhaps Teixeira's lawyers should push back on how someone with their client's disturbing background obtained a security clearance and held on to it — at a time when such clearances have been weaponized to retaliate against disfavored intelligence employees and contractors. Or perhaps they should ask why, barely five years after the worst data breach in CIA history ("Vault 7"), the Pentagon yet again failed to lock down — or even notice the disappearance of — a large trove of its most closely-held, valuable, top secret intelligence.

In the end, the alleged leaker whom Teixeira most resembles is actually former President Donald Trump. They share a combustible blend of narcissism, insecurity, troubled interpersonal relationships and grudges, along with the narcissistic belief that "I can do whatever I want." Both had been admonished about mishandling classified information. Trump's former White House counsel warned Trump in late 2021 that it was unlawful to retain documents, especially classified ones. The National Archives and Justice Department repeatedly warned Trump that his retention of the documents was unlawful and a potential threat to national security. Teixeira's superiors likewise admonished him multiple times during the past year over his "concerning actions" with regard to classified information.

By Jesselyn Radack

Jesselyn Radack represents Edward Snowden and a dozen other individuals investigated or charged under the Espionage Act. She heads the Whistleblower & Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts. As national security & human rights director of WHISPeR, her work focuses on the issues of secrecy, surveillance, torture and drones.

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Commentary Discord Donald Trump Edward Snowden Jack Teixeira National Security Pentagon Whistleblower