The age of the airman charged in one of the most significant U.S. intelligence leaks in recent memory — just 21 — has been the focus of a growing question: Why would the nation give someone so young access to some of its most important secrets?
But the airman's age has not come up as a focus of the Pentagon's investigation into how the documents were leaked. That investigation instead is targeting what security lapses took place that allowed Airman 1st Class Jack Teixeira to allegedly remove the top secret level documents from the Massachusetts National Guard base where he worked.
For the Pentagon's leaders, who have seen 17- and 18-year-olds serve, age isn't the issue.
“The vast majority of our military is young," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters traveling with him in Sweden on Wednesday. “It’s not exceptional that young people are doing important things in our military. That’s that’s really not the issue.”
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Teixeira was charged Friday in the U.S. District Court in Boston with unauthorized removal and retention of classified and national defense information. He has not entered a plea, and his lawyer didn’t speak to reporters at the courthouse after his initial appearance. He was supposed to appear in court Wednesday for a detention hearing, but it was delayed, with no new date set.
The leaked documents exposed to the world unvarnished secret assessments on Russia's war in Ukraine, the capabilities and geopolitical interests of other nations and other national security issues.
In Sweden, where Austin met with Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson in a show of support for that country’s NATO bid, Jonson said the issue of the leaks did not come up.
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“I can just say that we have good intelligence cooperation between Sweden and the United States,” Jonson said. “We feel completely sure of the U.S. commitment of handling the situation.”
The Air Force is investigating how a lone airman could access and distribute possibly hundreds of highly classified documents, and in the meantime it has taken away the intelligence mission from the unit where the leaks took place, Air Force leaders said Tuesday.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told Congress he has directed the Air Force inspector general to look at the Air National Guard 102nd Intelligence Wing, where Teixeira served, and at “anything associated with this leak that could have gone wrong."
For top secret information across the military, there’s supposed to be accountable control officers who are responsible for recording active top secret documents and ensuring they have been either properly secured or disposed of, such as through a shredder or by burning them.
In addition, the Air Force is conducting a service-wide review of how each command handles classified information, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown told a Congress subcommittee Tuesday.
The Air Force’s own reviews are on top of a military-wide review directed on Monday by Austin. Austin has ordered that all military facilities that handle classified information report to him within 45 days on how they access, share, store and destroy the nation’s secrets following the leaks.
Teixeira is accused of posting the highly classified material in a geopolitical chat room on Discord, a social media platform that started as a hangout for gamers. He was arrested by heavily armed tactical agents at his Massachusetts home last week and charged under the Espionage Act.
Copp reported from Washington.