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Pentagon cracks down after massive intel leaks in Teixeira case

The Pentagon said Wednesday it has tightened security to keep pace with the growing number of Defense Department facilities authorized to store and process classified information and provide guidance for the personnel who guard military secrets.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in April ordered a Pentagon-wide review of security procedures and policies after Air National Guard Airman 1st Class Jack Teixeira, 21, was accused of leaking dozens of classified and sensitive intelligence documents in a chatroom on the Discord social media platform. He is being held in detention after pleading not guilty to six counts of espionage last month.

In a June 30 memo, Mr. Austin said the Defense Department relies on a culture of trust and accountability from those who are granted access to Classified National Security Information — CNSI in Pentagon parlance.

While most Defense Department personnel handle classified material appropriately, “the review identified areas where we can improve accountability measures to prevent the compromise of CNSI, to include addressing insider threats,” Mr. Austin wrote in the memo.

The planned changes to procedures include increased levels of physical security; additional controls to ensure documents aren’t improperly removed, and the assignment of top-secret control officers to monitor users who deal with classified material.

On Wednesday, a senior Pentagon official briefed reporters on background on the 45-day review. She said safeguarding classified information can be challenging at military facilities with a range of security procedures, from the Pentagon to the Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Mass. where Airman Teixeira was assigned.

The Defense Department’s growth “has underscored the need to have a comprehensive and evolving security-in-depth posture,” the official said. “We are no longer just talking about a small number of facilities primarily in intelligence community buildings.”

Following the Pentagon policy review, commanders will validate the need for their personnel to have access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and ensure that those with a “need to know” have a valid non-disclosure agreement on file. It also directs the Defense Department to develop a centralized tracking system for all offices that hold military secrets.

“We needed to revalidate things like distribution lists and make sure we have appropriately modernized our requirements,” the Defense Department official said.

In past years, a service member with access to classified information might have gotten a security clearance and that would have been the end of it. Now, the Pentagon is stressing a process called “continuous vetting,” which involves regularly reviewing a cleared individual’s background to ensure they continue to meet security clearance requirements.

Following the review, the Pentagon says it will work more closely with security managers at the local level to help them monitor personnel who have access to classified information.

Mr. Austin also ordered security officials at the Pentagon to provide him with quarterly updates on the progress of the security review.

Federal prosecutors said Airman Teixeira, who worked as a cyber transport systems specialist at the Otis Air Guard base, began sharing military secrets in January 2022, first by copying down classified information and later transcribing it to the Discord site. He later posted images to the social media platform that bore classified markings like “SECRET” and “TOP SECRET.”

He was not stopped even after being reportedly warned about accessing information that had nothing to do with his job. The leaks continued for more than a year until his arrest in April 2023, officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

“Based on my training and experience, I know that to acquire his security clearance, Teixeira would have signed a lifetime binding non-disclosure agreement in which he would have had to acknowledge that the unauthorized disclosure of protected information could result in criminal charges,” an FBI agent wrote in the criminal complaint filed against him.

Airman Teixeira was indicted last month in Boston on six counts of willful retention and transmission of classified information relating to the national defense. He remains in federal custody after U.S. District Magistrate Judge David H. Hennessy granted the U.S. government’s motion for detention. 

He is facing 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

An estimated 4 million people hold U.S. security clearances, according to a 2017 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Of those, roughly 1.3 million are cleared to access top-secret information, the Associated Press reported.

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