Today's D Brief: Accused leaker arrested; China's Ukraine war promise; North Korea's new ICBM; Against cluster bombs in Ukraine; And a bit more.
Federal authorities arrested a 21-year-old enlisted airman in Massachusetts on Thursday for allegedly violating the Espionage Act by posting dozens of classified documents online over the past several months. The New York Times first reported the name of the airman Thursday, and subsequently shared how they arrived at their discovery—comparing images of the kitchen countertop where some of the leaked documents were photographed with separate images of the airman’s home posted online by members of his family.
“This was a deliberate criminal act,” Defense Department spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder repeatedly told reporters at the Pentagon Thursday afternoon while the airman was being arrested outside his home in North Dighton, Mass. CNN appears to have hired at least one of the many helicopters spotted flying above the Massachusetts home at the time of the arrest. You can see CNN’s live airborne footage from that arrest, preserved on Twitter, here.
The accused service member’s name is Jack Teixeira, and he is an Airman First Class; that is, an E-3 in the Air Force. His official job title was "Cyber Transport Systems Journeyman," and he was assigned to the 102nd Intelligence Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base on Joint Base Cape Cod in eastern Massachusetts. The Pentagon’s Pat Ryder wouldn’t comment on the arrested airman specifically—it’s an ongoing investigation, after all—but stressed to reporters, “Each of us signs a nondisclosure agreement, anybody that has a security clearance. And so all indications are, again, this was a criminal act, a willful violation of those, and again, another reason why we're continuing to investigate and support [Department of Justice’s] investigation” into the circumstances of the leaks.
Latest: The airman arrived in federal court “handcuffed and in tan jail clothes” Friday morning in Massachusetts, the Associated Press reported from Boston.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin announced an internal investigation of the leaks in a public statement Thursday afternoon. “Accordingly, I am directing the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security to conduct a review of our intelligence access, accountability and control procedures within the Department to inform our efforts to prevent this kind of incident from happening again,” he said. He also distributed a memo to troops reminding them of their responsibilities as clearance holders. Read over that message (PDF), here.
So why does a 21-year-old like Teixeira have access to top secret information? It’s a tempting question to consider, especially since one of the last major breaches of national security information involved a lower enlisted Army soldier, then-Specialist Chelsea Manning, back in 2010. But the answer to the question is that U.S. military policy has necessitated young soldiers have access to certain secret information, and it’s been this way for many decades, Ryder explained. But the answer is also the perhaps more banal fact that service members are legal adults who are responsible for their actions—even network and IT specialists like Teixeira.
“We entrust our members with a lot of responsibility at a very early age,” Ryder said. “Think about a young combat, you know, platoon sergeant and the responsibility and trust that we put into those individuals to lead troops into combat. That’s just one example across the board. So you receive training and you will receive an understanding of the rules and requirements that come along with those responsibilities, and you're expected to abide by those rules, regulations, and responsibility. It's called military discipline. And in certain cases, especially when it comes to sensitive information, it also is about the law. So I'll just leave it at that.”
Chinese officials are in damage control mode after allegations Beijing agreed to secretly arm Russia with lethal weapons, according to those leaked documents as reported by the Washington Post Thursday morning. Top officials in Kyiv told Reuters on Friday that they’re finding more and more Chinese parts in Russian military equipment used in Ukraine. That includes Chinese-made components allegedly “found in a navigation system in Orlan aerial drones that had previously used a Swiss system.” There were also alleged “Chinese parts in the fire control system in Russian tanks that had earlier used French-made parts,” according to Reuters.
Beijing’s foreign minister directly addressed the matter Friday, promising, “China will not provide weapons to relevant parties of the conflict, and manage and control the exports of dual-use items in accordance with laws and regulations.” AP has more on all that from Beijing, here.
- “Russia’s commando units gutted by Ukraine war, U.S. leak shows,” the Washington Post reported from the leaked document trove, which it says is nearly 300 pages long—most of which have not yet been made public;
- “Ukraine's spy chief says 'Russia is the only beneficiary' of US intelligence leak,” ABC News reported Thursday from Kyiv;
- “U.S. leaks show clash between 'need to know' vs 'need to share',” Reuters reported Friday;
- And don’t miss “The Chud Era of National Security Leaks,” via veteran national security reporter Spencer Ackerman, writing Thursday on his blog.
From Defense One
Army Picked Pricier Black Hawk Replacement Over ‘Unacceptable’ Losing Bid, GAO Says // Marcus Weisgerber: The Army found Sikorsky-Boeing's offering too vague, a new GAO document says.
Biden Must Resist Calls to Send Cluster Munitions to Ukraine // Nuria Raul: Transferring the weapons may bring tactical benefits but would be a strategic disaster.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. On this day last year, the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva sank after allegedly being struck by Ukrainian-made Neptune anti-ship missiles.
North Korea says it’s tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile it claims will “constantly strike extreme uneasiness and horror” into its enemies, Reuters reports. The ICBM uses solid fuel technology, which South Korea says the north is still working on mastering.
So what exactly is a solid-fuel ICBM? Reuters has a detailed answer to that question in a separate report, here, but the abbreviated version is that solid fuel is more stable and therefore more easy to transport and store—so the missiles “can be ready to launch at short notice.” Achieving that launch with that kind of fuel was “a major objective set forth by Kim Jong Un for 2023 at the start of this year,” Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace tweeted Thursday.
Perhaps more to the point, “While one can use liquid-fuel missiles for mobile launchers like TELs and submarines, it's just easier to use solid-fuel missiles,” Jeffrey Lewis of California’s Middlebury Institute explained Thursday on Twitter. After all, “North Korea was always going to follow the same technical path as the US, Soviet Union, France, China, Israel and India,” he added. Read more about the history of that technology, as retold by Lewis, here.
South Korea and the United States responded to the hermit kingdom’s test by flying B-52H bombers, F-35s, F-15s, and F-16s in the area for drills just a few hours later, to “continue demonstrating our strong alliance’s will that we will never tolerate any nuclear attack from North Korea,” South Korea’s defense ministry said in a statement.
By the way: China’s military just carried out a missile defense test on Friday, and claims to have successfully shot down some kind of projectile in its “midcourse” phase. Not much more detail to that message, which you can read over for yourself, here.
- “China sanctions U.S. Congress member [Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas] for Taiwan visit,” AP reported Friday from Taipei;
- “China defense minister to meet Russian counterpart in Moscow,” AP reported separately on Friday from Beijing;
- “Germany’s Baerbock warns China that war over Taiwan would be a ‘horror scenario’,” Politico reported Friday; the Guardian has similar coverage;
- “Changing Middle East pushes G7 to discuss waning influence, diplomats say,” Reuters reported Thursday in the wake of a marginally more active Chinese diplomatic effort in the Middle East; more on that from the New York Times and Foreign Affairs;
- And “Houthi official says Yemen peace talks made progress, further rounds planned,” Reuters reported separately from the Middle East Friday.
Have a safe weekend, everyone! And we’ll be back again on Monday.