What the Jack Teixeira intelligence leaks say about the state of American society

Photo by Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash

It is probably a measure of how much American society has changed that one of its biggest leaks of classified secrets appears to have occurred because of pridefulness rather than principle.

This was no Daniel Ellsberg or Edward Snowden.

Reports by the investigative journalism organisation Bellingcat, The Washington Post and The New York Times started to indicate this, in most dismal fashion, within days of the leaks going from obscure meme groups to a major world news story. These publications quoted members of the Thug Shaker Central chat group on Discord, an instant messaging social platform, to say that one of their number didn’t mean any harm, he just wanted to impress them. Jack Teixeira, 21, the chat group said, was looking to shock and awe them all  with his access to top secret information. He definitely didn’t want to achieve any particular foreign policy outcome, they assured everyone.

Basically that means the alleged leaker was neither for war nor against it; neither for the US nor against it; neither for Russian aggression nor against it; neither for Ukraine’s desperate fight for land and sovereignty nor against it.

It leads one to wonder what such a complete lack of bias on affairs of the day says about someone? Not just someone in the world’s richest country but anyone? American or not, what sort of individual wouldn’t care about an existential battle between survival and naked aggression? What sort of individual wouldn’t care about a cause that their country is supporting materially and morally? What sort of person wouldn’t care that a country is invaded by its neighbour? What sort of person would leak top secret information simply to appear important and plugged-in?

How far America has come from the moral courage of Daniel Ellsberg. In 1971, he released to the media the Pentagon Papers, a highly classified study of US government decision-making in relation to the Vietnam War. Mr Ellsberg, who was 40 years old at the time, did so because he believed the war was both unwinnable and immoral and that the American public was not being informed as such by the government.

America has come a long way too from the principled position taken by Edward Snowden in 2009, when he decided to blow the whistle on the National Security Agency (NSA). Mr Snowden, then 29 years old, will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers. He said at the time that he wanted ordinary people to be properly informed “as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them”. He added that he couldn’t “in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building”. There was an element of truth in this and Mr Snowden’s motives were certainly about secrets, lies and telling the truth.

But now comes an intelligence leak that is the result of nothing bigger than a boastful man’s search for attention on a group chat. For shame.