Pentagon to conduct internal review on access to classified documents in the wake of leak scandal
Stars and Stripes April 17, 2023
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered a Pentagon review on how secret information is handled and managed by the military in the wake of the scandal involving leaks of classified information online.
Austin ordered the “comprehensive review” to assess possible changes in how secret materials are distributed and who has access to them, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Monday.
“Within 45 days, [investigators] will provide the secretary with initial findings and recommendations to improve the department’s policies and procedures related to the protection of classified information,” Singh said during a Pentagon news briefing. “We will have more to say soon on more immediate actions that we will be taking.”
The review comes after batches of purportedly secret intelligence was leaked to social media platforms online. At least one member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard — airman Jack Douglas Teixeira — has been charged in connection with the documents leak. He’s a member of the 102nd Intelligence Wing that is headquartered at Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod.
The 102nd Intelligence Wing handles collection and analysis of intelligence gathered from all over the world.
Singh said repeatedly that the Pentagon is cooperating with the Justice Department on its criminal investigation into the leaks and defense officials are examining sensitive documents found online. No U.S. officials have said yet whether any of the leaked documents are authentic. Last week, one defense official told reporters that some of them appeared to have been “altered.”
Teixeira, 21, is an active member of the Air Force National Guard, which has created questions about jurisdiction for the case. The Justice Department is leading the civil criminal investigation, but the Pentagon could also charge Teixeira at some point under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“In terms of jurisdiction, [it is] something we are working through,” Singh said.
The Pentagon hasn’t disclosed yet exactly how many purportedly secret documents have been found online. The initial batch found on Twitter and Telegram detailed various elements of the war in Ukraine — such as troop positions and weapons. Documents about U.S. intelligence gathering in other countries were found later on other social sites. Some of the documents had been online for several weeks.
Singh said Monday that the Pentagon’s internal review should clarify how many secret documents are involved and the scope of their impact.
Teixeira was arrested Thursday in Dighton, Mass., and made his first court appearance Friday. According to federal prosecutors, he leaked the classified documents to a video game group on the social platform Discord. It wasn’t immediately clear, though, how all the documents ended up on various sites or whether any other persons might also be charged in the case. Teixeira is next scheduled to appear in court Wednesday for a detention hearing in Boston.
Information contained in some of the leaked materials included that dozens of “special forces” troops from NATO countries have been inside Ukraine, including 14 from the United States, according to news reports. At Monday’s briefing, Singh pushed back against that claim.
“We have publicly acknowledged previously that there is a small U.S. military footprint in Ukraine to provide mission-critical support to the U.S. Embassy [in Kyiv],” she said. “To be clear, there are no U.S. combat troops conducting combat operations in Ukraine.”
“Their duties include support to the defense attaché office, support of our security assistance program … as well as U.S. Embassy security support,” she added. “This is not new.”
Earlier Monday, Austin spoke by phone with Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov. The Pentagon said the two “discussed priorities” for the next meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which is scheduled for Friday in Germany. Austin will leave Washington for Sweden on Tuesday for a trip that will include a stop in Germany.
The contact group, which is comprised of about 50 nations allied with Ukraine, meets regularly to determine what Kyiv needs to defend against Russian forces. The United States often announces a new tranche of military aid after the group meets to talk about Ukraine’s security needs.
“This meeting will mark one year since Secretary Austin first convened the [group] at Ramstein [Air Base] to coordinate security assistance, which has now brought together some fifty nations in support of Ukraine,” the Pentagon said in a statement.