How top-secret documents leaked from a chatroom to the world (2024)

Jack Teixeira, the Massachusetts Air National Guard member suspected of leaking highly classified intelligence online, was arraigned in federal court Friday on charges of retention and transmission of national defense information and willful retention of classified documents.

For months, according to federal investigators, the 21-year-old transcribed and posted hundreds of sensitive documents in a small, invitation-only chatroom.

The leaked information was largely ignored by the roughly two dozen adolescent boys and young men who made up the group, most of whom didn’t seem to understand the significance of what they were seeing, according to a member. But in late February, Teixeira allegedly started posting pictures of the documents themselves.

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Now, they’re everywhere. Pictures of battlefield assessments, geopolitical analysis and satellite images ping-ponged from private forums to larger messaging platforms, then erupted on social media last week, triggering a diplomatic and intelligence nightmare for leaders around the world.

Teixeira did not enter a plea and will remain in custody pending a Wednesday hearing. The two felonies he is facing carry a maximum of 15 years in prison.

Here’s how the leaks unfolded, according to accounts from chatroom members and a review of activity on the platforms where the documents first surfaced.

2020: A chatroom gets started

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The group where the leak originated was housed on Discord, a messaging and live-streaming app that’s popular among gamers. The app allows users to set up their own chatrooms, or servers, which can be public or private.

A YouTube creator known as Oxide built an audience with videos about guns, body armor and military hardware. Some of his fans ran a server where they talked about the videos and related topics. During the pandemic, Oxide purged some users who posted racist and vulgar content, and others left on their own. A handful of those users went on to start their own server, which they called Thug Shaker Central, named after a racist and p*rnographic meme.

How top-secret documents leaked from a chatroom to the world (1)

Oxide Discord

≈5,000 members

How top-secret documents leaked from a chatroom to the world (2)

Oxide Discord

≈5,000 members

The two dozen or so members of Thug Shaker Central bonded over their love of guns, military gear and God, one of them told The Washington Post.

Among the members was a 20-something American, known to the group as OG. He was older than most of the group, though not by much. He said he worked in a secure facility on a military base where cellphones were barred and claimed to know government secrets. Members soon came to view him as the group’s undisputed leader.

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About eight months ago, OG started typing up transcripts of classified documents he brought home from work and posting them to the server, according to his friend and group member. He annotated some, translating arcane government-speak and acronyms so they’d be more readable to the group.

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Thug Shaker Central

≈25 members

How top-secret documents leaked from a chatroom to the world (4)

Thug Shaker Central

≈25 members

Only people with the highest levels of security clearance, who have undergone painstaking background checks, should have been able to see the documents. But OG continued to post hundreds of transcripts over the following months.

Late 2022: The leaks escalate

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OG got angry when members of the group largely ignored his posts. Late last year, he told the group that the transcriptions took hours and threatened to stop posting if members wouldn’t pay more attention.

One member told The Post that OG “got upset, and he said on multiple occasions, ‘If you guys aren’t going to interact with them, I’m going to stop sending them.’”

To feed the members’ interest, he started sending photos of the documents themselves. The group took notice.

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How top-secret documents leaked from a chatroom to the world (6)

Feb. 28: Documents start spreading . . .

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For weeks, nobody on Thug Shaker Central showed interest in sharing the documents outside the group. But in late February, a teenager posted dozens of them on a Discord server affiliated with a well-known YouTuber, wow_mao. They included papers detailing Ukraine’s defenses and offering insights into how far U.S. intelligence had penetrated Russia’s military leadership.

According to the investigative journalism group Bellingcat, a wow_mao follower posted dozens more images, many of them marked “top secret,” on the server on March 1 and 2.

There, the documents found a wider audience.

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Wow Mao Zone

≈4,000 members

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Wow Mao Zone

≈4,000 members

March 4: . . . then are shared more widely

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From there, the documents proliferated across more Discord servers, accessible to thousands of people.

On March 4, 10 documents were shared on Minecraft Earth Map, a server devoted to the popular video game. Thousands more people could see them.

By mid-March, OG stopped sharing images.

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Thug Shaker

Central

Wow Mao Zone

≈4,000 members

Minecraft Earth Map

≈8,000 members

How top-secret documents leaked from a chatroom to the world (10)

Thug Shaker

Central

Wow Mao Zone

≈4,000 members

Minecraft Earth Map

≈8,000 members

April 5: Classified materials hit social media

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Leaked documents landed on social media the first week of April. Classified assessments of the war in Ukraine were posted to Russian channels on the messaging service Telegram on April 5. They also appeared on the far-right message board 4chan.

Soon after, the documents appeared on Twitter.

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Russian channels

on Telegram

Twitter

4chan

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Russian channels

on Telegram

Twitter

4chan

April 6: OG shuts down the server

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Around this time the Pentagon became aware that secret military documents were circulating online — weeks after they started spreading.

On April 6, OG shut down the Thug Shaker Central server, then set up another to communicate with the group. On the same day, the New York Times reported that the Pentagon was investigating the leak.

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April 13: The suspected leaker is arrested

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News organizations around the world were still parsing through the leaked documents on Thursday when federal authorities announced they had arrested Teixeira, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard who worked as a technology support officer.

The next day, Teixeira was charged. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

About this story:

Shane Harris, Samuel Oakford and Drew Harwell contributed to this report.

Estimated chatroom membership numbers are from interviews with members of the Discord servers Thug Shaker Central and Oxide Hub and from public data for the Discord server Minecraft Earth Map.

The Discord Leaks

The Washington Post and “Frontline” partnered to investigate Jack Teixeira’s alleged leak of classified U.S. intelligence on the Discord chat platform. The new documentary, “The Discord Leaks,” premiered Tuesday, Dec. 12 and is available to watch on PBS streaming platforms and washingtonpost.com.

The suspected document leaker: Teixeira, a young member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was indicted on six charges. Interviews with people who knew Teixeira offer the most detailed account yet of how he allegedly leaked classified information and his motivations. Discord’s rules and culture allowed a racist and antisemitic community to flourish, giving Teixeira an eager audience unlikely to report his alleged lawbreaking.

How the leak happened: The Washington Post reported that the individual who leaked the information shared documents with a small circle of online friends on the Discord chat platform. The Air Force disciplined 15 members of the Air National Guard after an internal investigation found that a “lack of supervision” helped enable Teixeira. This is a timeline of how the documents leaked.

What we learned from the leaked documents: The massive document leak has exposed a range of U.S. government secrets, including spying on allies, the grim prospects for Ukraine’s war with Russia and the precariousness of Taiwan’s air defenses. It also has ignited diplomatic fires for the White House. Here’s what we’ve learned from the documents.

How top-secret documents leaked from a chatroom to the world (2024)

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