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The latest on the leaked classified documents

ANDREW LIMBONG, HOST:

We turn to the Air National Guardsman accused of leaking a trove of U.S. intelligence documents. Twenty-one-year-old Jack Teixeira is facing charges under the Espionage Act. Today he made his initial appearance in federal court in Boston, where a judge ordered that he remain in custody for now. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is covering this. He joins us now. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hey there.

LIMBONG: So Teixeira was arrested yesterday. He was in court today. What's he charged with?

LUCAS: Well, according to court papers, Teixeira faces two charges here. One is for the unauthorized removal of classified documents, and the other is for the unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information. Teixeira was, as you said, in federal court this morning in Boston. He was dressed in a khaki prison uniform. The hearing was very brief. And as you mentioned, a federal magistrate judge ordered that he be held pending a detention hearing next Wednesday.

LIMBONG: What else did we learn from the charging documents that were unsealed today?

LUCAS: Well, we learned a bit more about Teixeira himself. We've previously reported that he worked at the 102nd Military Intelligence Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod. Court papers say Teixeira enlisted in September of 2019. He holds the rank of airman first class and was working as a cyber defense operations journeyman at the base. In that position, he had top secret security clearance. And he also had access to another realm of basically more sensitive information.

LIMBONG: Yeah, yeah. There's been a lot of public reporting about how the leak occurred. Were there any additional details you learned today?

LUCAS: Well, you're right. There has been a lot in the public realm about how these intelligence materials - just as a reminder that a lot of them related to the war in Ukraine...

LIMBONG: Yeah.

LUCAS: ...How they ended up online. Court papers say that Teixeira began posting classified information in December on a social media platform. Court papers don't identify the platform, but we know, of course, that it's Discord, something popular...

LIMBONG: With gamers.

LUCAS: ...Among gamers. Right. Initially, Teixeira was allegedly just posting paragraphs of texts from classified information. But then in January, according to court papers, he started posting photographs of U.S. government documents that had classification markings on them. Teixeira allegedly started taking photographs because he was worried that he might be discovered transcribing these documents at work. So instead of doing that, he took the materials home and was taking pictures of them.

LIMBONG: How did the authorities manage to track this leak back to Teixeira?

LUCAS: Well, the leaked materials were out there for a while before...

LIMBONG: Yeah.

LUCAS: ...Anyone noticed in the government. But once folks in the U.S. government did catch wind that these documents were out in the wild, so to speak, they moved pretty fast. The FBI appears to have gotten a lot of information from an unnamed witness identified in court papers only as User One. User One was in the Discord group along with Teixeira. User One told the FBI that they'd spoken to Teixeira over video chat, and User One was able to actually identify Teixeira for the FBI based on Teixeira's driver's license photo. The FBI also got records from Discord - so account and subscriber information. That includes Teixeira's name, billing information, an address in North Dighton, Mass. And, of course, it was at a home in North Dighton that a heavily armed SWAT team yesterday, as we saw, rolled up and ended up arresting Teixeira there.

LIMBONG: There have been, like, a series of leaks over the past decade-plus, right? I'm thinking about, like - there's WikiLeaks. There's Edward Snowden. What steps is the government taking to tamp down on these leaks?

LUCAS: Well, first of all, I think it's important to say that this leak appears to be different in many ways from the WikiLeaks leaks and the Snowden leak, including just in terms of scale - the vast scale of those compared to this and the sensitivity of the materials. As far as trying to prevent future leaks, President Biden today said that he has directed the military and U.S. intelligence agencies to tighten up how they handle sensitive information. This has been a problem for a long time. Attorney General Merrick Garland also talked about this today, and he noted importantly that, you know, there are penalties - very serious penalties for leaking classified information. And he said that this prosecution is a reminder to those people who are entrusted with protecting U.S. secrets how important it is to do so and how important it is not to spill those secrets.

LIMBONG: NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.