Discord leaker Jack Teixeira pleads guilty, seeks light 11-year sentence

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This photo illustration created on April 13, 2023, shows the Discord logo and the suspect, national guardsman Jack Teixeira, reflected in an image of the Pentagon in Washington, DC.
Enlarge / This photo illustration created on April 13, 2023, shows the Discord logo and the suspect, national guardsman Jack Teixeira, reflected in an image of the Pentagon in Washington, DC.

Jack Teixeira, the National Guard airman who leaked confidential military documents on Discord, agreed Monday to plead guilty, promising to cooperate with officials attempting to trace the full extent of government secrets leaked.

Under the plea deal, Teixeira will serve a much-reduced sentence, The Boston Globe reported, recommended between 11 years and 16 years and eight months.

Previously, Teixeira had pleaded not guilty to six counts of “willful retention and transmission of national defense information,” potentially facing up to 10 years per count. During a pretrial hearing, prosecutors suggested he could face up to 25 years, The Globe reported.

By taking the deal, Teixeira will also avoid being charged with violations of the Espionage Act, The New York Times reported, including allegations of unlawful gathering and unauthorized removal of top-secret military documents.

According to prosecutors, it was clear that Teixeira, 22, was leaking sensitive documents—including national security secrets tied to US foreign adversaries and allies, including Russia, China, Ukraine, and South Korea—just to impress his friends on Discord—some of them teenage boys. Investigators found no evidence of espionage.

US District Judge Indira Talwani will decide whether or not to sign off on the deal at a hearing scheduled for September 27.

Discord leaker “significantly remorseful”

Teixeira has been in custody after his arrest last April when Discord helped the FBI track down the source of leaked documents.

The controversy has raised questions about who gets access to the US government’s most sensitive documents. According to an FBI special agent’s affidavit, Teixeira was granted access to top-secret documents at 19, when he was working as a low-level computer tech at a Massachusetts military base. Business Insider estimated that more than 2 million workers have similar clearance.

Teixeira reportedly grew up in a military family in a small, conservative Massachusetts town, developing an obsession early on with the military. Some of his childhood classmates found his obsession with guns and the military “unnerving,” and at least at school, Teixeira developed a reputation for doing “crazy stuff” to get attention.

Once he was stationed in Massachusetts, he started leaking documents by transcribing confidential information and sharing it online, but when that didn’t elicit the response he hoped, he began printing documents and bringing them home. According to The Times, Teixeira was warned at least once by a superior to stop, but this did not deter him.

Hoping to impress a tight-knit community of about 25 members as the admin of a Discord server called “Thug Shaker Central,” Teixeira would photograph the confidential documents he stole, then upload them to Discord. That community—which The Times found was “fixated on weapons, mass shootings, and shadowy conspiracy theories”—was expected not to share the documents. Ultimately, Bellingcat found that Teixeira’s friends spread the documents widely, first to other Discord servers, then to Telegram, 4Chan, and Twitter (now called X).

Teixeira also reportedly used his access to try to figure out if he was suspected of leaking documents. And once he felt the FBI on his trail, he reportedly took extreme measures to avoid drawing attention, switching Discord servers to throw off the FBI’s manhunt and telling his friends to delete anything “that could possibly relate to him.”

When Teixeira was arrested last year, his mother, Dawn, told The Times that Teixeira often worked late at the base, where his stepfather, a retired master sergeant, had also once worked. The arrest seemed to surprise the family, who supported him Monday with encouraging nods and smiles as he entered his guilty plea, The Globe reported.

“Do you understand if I accept your plea, you’ll be judged guilty of these offenses?” Talwani asked Teixeira.

“Yes, I do, your honor,” Teixeira replied.

“Are you in fact guilty of the facts charged?” Talwani asked.

“Yes, your honor,” he said.

A lawyer for Teixeira, Michael Bachrach, described the airman as “significantly remorseful” and indicated that Teixeira hoped for the lightest sentence possible under the plea deal, The Globe reported.

“We believe there is going to be substantial mitigation that we’re going to be able to establish as to why a sentence of no more than 11 years is, in fact, the just and reasonable sentence in this case,” Bachrach said.

Scrutiny of Teixeira may not end when this trial ends, though. According to a Department of Defense official, “Teixeira remains in unpaid active military status” and “could still face a military judicial process” if the Air Force pursues additional military legal action, The Globe reported.

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