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US must rethink intelligence apparatus after Pentagon leak

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Peter Zeihan

Geopolitical Strategist

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The arrest of 21-year-old Jack Teixeira for leaking intelligence materials has led many to question the accessibility of top-secret U.S. government papers. Teixeira, an airman in the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was part of a support system for military drone operations. But revelations about past racist and violent remarks he made online have raised concerns about how someone with a questionable past gained access to sensitive documents.

Straight Arrow News contributor Peter Zeihan says after the Pentagon leak, the U.S. must rethink its intelligence apparatus and how it protects our secrets.

Excerpted from Peter’s May 3 “Zeihan on Geopolitics” newsletter.

What happens when you give a 21-year-old access to TOP SECRET documents? They end up leaking those documents on a gaming chat platform…shocking.

Most of the information that was leaked pertains to the Ukraine War and how the U.S. has low confidence in the reports coming out of Ukraine. Nothing too far-fetched, but that doesn’t mean we should take everything in the public domain at face value. Let’s remember who is blasting this info around and how easy it is to tamper with.

Russia once boasted the largest human intelligence arm, but we haven’t seen much Russian interference since Snowden. This means they’ve gotten really good, or that capability has lapsed, and I lean toward the latter.

As the U.S. faces another leak, the real question that must be asked is whether people like Snowden, Manning, and Teixeira should even have access to this stuff.

Hi everyone, Peter Zeihan here coming to you from Colorado, where spring has sprung and the frogs are chirping, which means of course later today we’re supposed to get a foot of snow. Anyway, I thought it would be worth me commenting on the recent intelligence leaks by Airman Teixeira. Let’s deal with the contents of what was leaked and then we can talk about espionage and leaks in general.
So, most of the documents that were leaked relate to the war in Ukraine in some way and involve internal U.S. assessments of how the war is going and how the Ukrainians are doing. And they’re broadly less than fully complimentary. Basic indication from the leak is that Ukrainians have been suffering higher casualties that are reported. And more importantly, the confidence in the numbers provided by the Ukrainians is very low, so the U.S. really doesn’t have a good view. In addition, there is concern that by engaging in a static defense in places like Baku, the Ukrainians are losing their combat firepower, which is going to make it more difficult for them to launch future offensives.
There’s nothing about either of those assessments that is particularly controversial. But before you say that everything that is now out there in the public domain is true, keep in mind that it has been the Russians now that have publicized this stuff far and wide, and they have undoubtedly changed a lot of the details in order to make their propaganda machine a little bit stronger than it otherwise would be. But three things to come from this.
First of all, Teixeira, the guy who did the leak, the U.S. Airman, from all appearances was not recruited by the Russians. And that’s something that’s kind of had me curious for a while now. Not since Edward Snowden in 2013 have we had any of our leakers have a very firm and obvious Russian connection. Now Snowden apologists, of course, are gonna reject that out of hand, but you know, screw ‘em.
The Russians used to maintain the world’s best human intelligence arm. And in the last decade, either they’ve gotten so good that no one’s detected them functionally working really anywhere, or that capacity has languished along with everything else that we’ve seen in the Russian state services of late, whether it’s the military, or their cyber capabilities or anything else, that’s probably really good news.
Second, Teixeira himself and why people do things like this. It’s really an issue of foreign recruitment, even if they’re not a foreigner involved. People are often motivated by the same factors, with the big three being ego, ideology, and sex. And in the case of Teixeira, it looks like it was probably a combination of all three. He was on a gamers forum, he had these documents or had access to these documents, he brought them home, he photocopied them, he took PDF photos of them, and then he published them on the gamers’ platform Discord, like the whiny bitch he is.
In the case of a couple of previous big leaks — I’m thinking here of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden — ideology was certainly part of it for Manning.In terms of Edward Snowden, clearly he was paid by the Russians, clearly fled to Russia, clearly married a trophy bride as soon as he got there. I’m sure it’s for love, but let’s be a little bit more honest here. And then ideology of course, intertwines with Snowden as well.

I think the criticism here, if there is one, is we’ve now had three leaks of significance in the last 13 years that get into files that are top secret and above. And if you look at the three specific cases of Snowden, Manning, and Teixeira, they all have something in common. They probably should have never had access to these documents in the first place. Snowden was a part-time contractor. And yes, he was definitely a spy and yes, he definitely hacked into the system. But somebody at his level should have never been near a terminal would have been an access in the first place.
Manning was a private at the time and definitely should have not had access to the high-end stuff. And Teixeira was a 21 year-old Airman. Now I am not the sort of person who’s going to go in and pick apart American security policy when it comes to information. But there is a pattern here and probably something that should be addressed in the not too distant future. But the biggest bit of encouragement I had is how fast Teixeira was caught.
I mean, it really only took a few days for the FBI to find him at the same time a bunch of independent journalists found him and then publicized his information. So at least on time and target, we are getting better from the law enforcement side of this, but maybe we should work a little bit more on information security on the personnel side.
Okay, I think that’s it for me. Take care.

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