UPDATED: Edgelord Gamers Humiliated the Pentagon
The most consequential leak of classified intelligence in 10 years was born from loneliness and the desire to connect.
UPDATE: 4/13/23 at 2:57PM
A lot has happened in the hours after I wrote this post. First, The New York Times identified the leaker as 21-year-old Air Natioanal Guardsman Jack Teixeira. Here’s a picture of him that his mother uploaded onlline:
Hours after the story went live, the Pentagon suggested that they knew who the leaker was and were about to make an arrest. He was arrested by local police in the area of Dighton, a small town in Massachusets.
Helicopters circled the house and caught an intimate moment where he appeared to be writing a note.
Then a tactical unit entered the house and arrested Teixeira, perp-walking him to a BearCat.
The Pentagon gave a press conference around the same time that was short on answers as to how a 21-year-old Guardsman was able to access sensitive intel. The rest of the original newsletter appears below, unaltered.
The first thing you need to see this week is this Pentagon-created propaganda poster that updates the World War II era idiom: “Loose Lips Sink Ships.”
On the poster, a sinking U.S. warship bobs above mines decorated with the symbols of social media, including Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram. The symbol for Discord, a chatroom service marketed to gamers, is absent. The Pentagon published this poster on March 6. While it was posting this, the biggest leak of U.S. Department of Defense secrets since Chelsea Manning was happening on Discord. No one but a small clique of gamers noticed for almost a month.
The Washington Post has the bulk of the story of the original leaker, and it’s quite the tale. The short version is that a lonely and disaffected government employ shared Pentagon secrets with a small group of relative strangers he met online during the pandemic. He was flexing for teens, transcribing secrets for months before he broke downs and started posting photographs.
The full story is even weirder, and is best told backwards.
On April 6, the Pentagon briefed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III that Top Secret Pentagon documents about the war in Ukraine were circulating on Twitter and Telegram. The initial news was that Russian Telegram channels had begun circulating DoD documents detailing casualties on the Russian and Ukrainian sides. It didn’t look good for Ukraine. But the images going around on Telegram had been altered, often poorly, to overstate Ukrainian losses and downplay those of the Kremlin.
But the original documents were real. Over at Bellingcat, Aric Toler figured out that the documents had made their way from Telegram via 4chan. Posters on the notorious message board had gotten into a fight about how the war in Ukraine was going and one of them posted the classified documents with casualty numbers to win an argument.
The 4chan poster had gotten the documents from a private Minecraft Discord server. If you’re not a gamer, you may not be familiar with the service. It’s kind of like Microsoft Teams or Slack. Anyone can set up their own server which is a collection of separate voice and text channels. People often use it to coordinate online gaming groups.
The Minecraft server is a small community of people dedicated to reproducing high scale maps of the Earth in the video game Minecraft. On March 4, one of its users posted 10 photographs of printed top secret Pentagon documents. There were eight maps dated March 1 that detailed the location of assets in Ukraine along the frontline and two additional pages of supplemental information.
“here, have some leaked documents,” the user said.
“Nice,” another user replied one minute later.