Plus, what happened to those UAP we shot down?
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”
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- The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the lower court orders that imposed limits on how the abortion pill mifepristone could be distributed. (The ruling)
- At least 74 people have died in a paramilitary group clash with the military in Sudan. (The toll)
- The parents of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being detained in Russia, spoke publicly for the first time. (The comments)
- The start of the Dominion v. Fox News lawsuit in Delaware was unexpectedly delayed for one day on Monday, just hours before the trial was set to begin. (The delay)
- Montana lawmakers voted to ban downloads of TikTok in the state Friday, the first such ban in the U.S. (The ban)
Jack Teixeira. On Thursday, the 21-year-old U.S. Air National Guardsman was arrested by the FBI for allegedly leaking classified military documents in what is believed to be the most serious security breach since the publication of more than 700,000 documents by WikiLeaks in 2010. Federal agents arrested Teixeira at his home in Massachusetts.
The arrest came just a week after the leaks became widely circulated online, but months after Teixeira allegedly first shared them with an online chat group he was a member of. Among other things, the documents detailed U.S. intelligence spying on allies and an unfiltered view of Ukraine's military capabilities.
Teixera was an airman 1st class and IT specialist at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts. Attorney General Merrick Garland said he was being charged with the unauthorized removal, retention, and transmission of classified national defense information. He could face up to 15 years in prison, according to some reports, though leakers often plead down their sentence.
We covered the initial leaks here.
The case involving Teixeira is unique among intelligence leaks, namely because he does not appear to have been acting as a whistleblower or a foreign agent. Instead, several reports from The Washington Post, Bellingcat, and The New York Times traced the initial leaks of the documents to a group chat on Discord. Teixeira was admired by the group’s younger members and went by the nickname "OG" in the group, which discussed guns, military gear, and offensive jokes online. Members of the group alleged Teixeira’s motivation for the leaks was an effort to impress or educate his online friends.
Some of the documents that were shared on the Discord chat or have since circulated online were doctored, though U.S. officials believe the vast majority of the material was genuine.
Fallout from the leaks is still ongoing. Allies in countries like South Korea have expressed a mix of outrage and denial, while U.S. military leaders fear the leaks could expose sources and methods, potentially putting people in danger and Ukraine at a disadvantage in the war. SoOme reports suggest Ukraine has already changed its battlefield strategy in response.
The leaks drew widespread criticism from across Congress, though some members — like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) — praised Teixeira because he "told the truth" about the presence of U.S. special forces on the ground in Ukraine.
Today, we're going to take a look at some reactions from the right and left to the news that Teixeira was the source, then my take.
What the right is saying.
- The right is divided, with some criticizing the Biden administration for allowing this to happen and others criticizing Teixeira's defenders.
- Some frame Teixeira as a whistleblower, and argue the corporate media is engaging in character assassination.
- Others say he is a criminal leaker and should be prosecuted, not praised.
In Red State, the blogger streiff said Teixeira was no hero and no martyr.
I thought "everyone could agree" that "stealing documents from inside a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), posting them online, and making them available to people who were a) not cleared to see them, b) not in the military, and c) not necessarily US citizens was wrong. But, boy, was I stupid," they wrote. Marjorie Taylor Greene has "a much firmer grip on what is happening in macro terms" than the GOP establishment, but "endorsing the theft of documents" because they make a point you agree with "is dumb."
Teixeira didn't "tell any 'truth' about U.S. troops on the ground," streiff said. "What Teixeira did was violate his enlistment oath. It is really that simple. His way of leaking the documents shows there was no anti-deep-state or even political motivation... The sad thing is that a young man has squandered a good chunk of his life for no greater reason than to show off to his friends."
In PJ Media, Ben Bartee criticized the rules on classification and the corporate media's relationship with the "Deep State."
The news of Teixeira's "alleged racism and domestic terrorism due to offhand remarks on a Discord server and an affinity for guns have spread far and wide in recent days," Bartee said. CNN and "the rest of corporate media" are putting their "vast resources to work" for a character assassination. All this when "seemingly every document" the U.S. government gets its hands on is classified, and "very little of it justifiably so."
The standard for classification should be "whether releasing the information in question" will put an American asset "in immediate danger — akin to the limitation on free speech" in the Constitution. Things like "imminent troop movements" on a battlefield would qualify. While Teixeira is being criticized, it’s worth noting that the "Deep State" has "well-established whisper networks" and leaks classified intel to the corporate media "24/7/365." That's how The New York Times got the whistleblower's name before the FBI released it, and how a news helicopter "was conveniently on scene" to capture the arrest.
The New York Post editorial board said defenders of Teixeira should be ashamed.
"One sure way to become a political hero in this country, it seems, is to betray it by revealing official secrets," the board said. "Just look at the response, left and right, to the theft and publication of highly classified documents" by Teixeira. Rep. Greene defended him, and "lefty gadfly Glenn Greenwald praised Teixeira by saying on TV that he 'did the job of what journalists claim to do.'" In reality, Teixeira "simply sought to impress boys in an online forum."
Most reasonable people would agree "that spilling state secrets simply to show off — not to uncover human-rights abuses or other crimes — is not just spectacularly dumb, but also treasonous." Worse, the debate about his heroism distracts from more pressing questions, like why would a gamer "barely into his 20s, serving in tech support, have such easy and plentiful access to high-level documents?"
What the left is saying.
- The left has also criticized the fact that Teixeira had classified clearance.
- Some warn about the rise of young white men who are being radicalized.
- Others focus on the importance of smaller group chats that are now driving major events like January 6 and these leaks.
In Slate, Fred Kaplan said he "didn't fit the usual profile" of a leaker, and questioned how this could have happened.
"In the past, most leaks on U.S. foreign policy have come from three sources: administration officials launching trial balloons, losers of interagency fights who want to rally fellow critics, and whistleblowers seeking to expose terrible activities," Kaplan said. But this is about a “showoff who wants to demonstrate his inside knowledge."
The most obvious question is "how could this have happened?" It has long been noted that "too many people have security clearances," but Teixeira seems "more than a little unstable." Some of his techniques, like "taking paper documents back to his home, photographing them with his phone, then emailing the files to his pals—should have been fairly easy to block." More precisely, "why does an intelligence officer at the Massachusetts Air National Guard need to know any of the information said to be contained in these leaks?"
In Salon, Lucian K. Truscott IV warned about the radicalization of white youth.
"Teixeira named his group on Discord 'Thug Shaker Central,' apparently as a racist joke playing on a hip-hop phrase that refers to young black men performing a 'rump shaker' dance to popular rap songs," Truscott IV said. "Reports about posts on the chat group say that members shared racist and antisemitic jokes and memes," he added. Teixeira reportedly wanted to teach his online friends 'about actual war,' but that usually "does not include stealing top secret Pentagon intelligence documents."
Now, the right-wing media and political sphere is "starting to turn him into a conservative cause-celeb," with Tucker Carlson claiming his arrest "was part of some kind of vast conspiracy to cover up the secret involvement of American ground forces in Ukraine." There are "other radical cells out there." They are "using violent video games and racist, antisemitic propaganda as recruiting tools" to lure young, white people people into the Republican party.
In The Atlantic, Charlie Warzel said "of course this is how the intelligence leak happened."
While leaks are a feature of the 21st century, this "has little in common with WikiLeaks or the Snowden NSA revelations." Instead, "the leak does not seem motivated by righteous or even misguided whistleblowing but by an extremely online man, barely old enough to drink, who was trying to impress his teenage friends in a racistly named group chat," he wrote. "Unlike traditional social media or even forums and message boards, group chats are nearly impossible to monitor."
Law enforcement and journalists learned this while "trying to track extremist groups such as QAnon or right-wing militias." The problems of social media at scale, and trying to moderate it, are "well documented... But as our digital social lives start to splinter off from feeds and large audiences and into siloed areas, a different kind of unpredictability and chaos awaits." The age of the group chat "appears to be at least as unpredictable," but trades a public form of volatility "for a more siloed, incalculable version."
Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. You can reply to this email and write in. You can also leave a comment.
- I'm very surprised at the source of this leak, which is pretty novel.
- I think Teixeira's motivations are silly and immature, but I still think the leak is valuable.
- The hardest part is figuring out how to punish him.
While I wouldn’t describe my reaction to Teixeira's story as “shocked,” the details of this leak are not at all what I expected.
Throughout my career as a journalist, I have written about the risks and potential harms of "de-platforming" people. One such risk is that it can push people into tiny little corners of "safe" internet spaces where groups like the one Teixeira was a part of are increasingly common and increasingly siloed. I think it has become apparent in the last few years that their existence is becoming more and more significant.
Last week, I wrote that "I love leaks... because they often give us an unfiltered look at events." Quite a few people were upset about that stance, which I understand. It is possible that leaks can have a broadly negative impact. They can put people in danger, change the course of a war, or set off a public panic. When I say "I love leaks," I don't mean to imply that every leaker is noble, or every leak is good. Simply put: My job is to traffic in information — reliable information, in particular. While intelligence assessments can be squishy or written with low confidence, few things offer us such unvarnished and high-level information as access to classified documents.
Of course, motivation matters, and in that light I agree with all of Teixeira’s critics. I have no idea what to make of the accusations of “racism” of anti-semitism, given that I haven’t actually seen the purported comments (which every news report seems to refer to, while none that I’ve found have quoted anything directly). Otherwise, the extensive reporting on him still paints the picture of someone more interested in social status than any noble political goals.
As many have pointed out, he was not trying to uncover human rights abuses or even vast government conspiracies. He did not intend to inform the public. He seemed as if he was just trying to impress his friends — with a dose of "reality" about what was going on in Ukraine. As far as we can tell, none of these leaks were ever supposed to be seen beyond the chatroom.
But I also think the pundits are a little too quick to dismiss his political motivations here. The Washington Post simultaneously cited a member of the chat who said Teixeira wasn't hostile to the U.S. government, but a few sentences later noted that he "had a dark view of the government," and spoke of law enforcement and the intel community "as a sinister force that sought to suppress citizens and keep them in the dark." That is not an apolitical position.
But again: I can separate any misgivings about him and his motivations from a sense of interest in the leaks and gratitude for the information found in them. The leaks served as a reminder of our own intelligence agency's vast spying apparatus across the globe, and a reality check on the difficulties facing the Ukrainian military that are good context for observers and pundits who write about the war, as I do. Given my hope for Putin's failure in taking over Ukraine, I am — of course — worried about how the leaks may benefit Russia’s military. Yet I can hold that view while still being glad the leaks were made in the first place.
More difficult than parsing Teixeira’s alleged motives is deciding how, if found guilty, he should be punished. He will be charged and could face many years in prison. Most of you know my views on prison. He is not a particularly sophisticated leaker, a foreign agent, nor some kind of evil mastermind. The government will have to balance the need for deterrence (which calls for a harsh penalty) with Teixeira’s motivation and circumstances (which reek of the actions of an ignorant, insecure young man).
The government has little choice but to give Teixeira a serious penalty, and a prison term is probably appropriate. But that term should leave plenty of space for him to learn from his mistakes and re-enter society as a better man, rather than face a life of ruin.
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Your questions, answered.
Q: I have a question about the February UAP [unidentified aerial phenomena]. Why do you think we haven’t heard any follow up since the retrieval of the objects?
— Ashley from Iowa
Tangle: First, in previous Tangle editions, we shared views questioning whether the "Chinese spy balloon" was actually a spy balloon at all. I expressed certainty about it, and then some skepticism. More recent revelations make me think it probably was what the Biden administration said. In fact, in Teixeira's leaks, there were documents about the balloon and three other spy balloons that indicate that is what our government thought it was. We also have an NBC News story on the balloon transmitting information and photos of the actual balloon from the Air Force.
My thought about the other objects we shot down after the Chinese spy balloon is that if they were also real threats, I think we would have heard as much. When the government has an opportunity to tell us that we are under threat from foreign nations, they almost always do. Usually, this is to boost military funding, promote national unity, and ensure a commitment to U.S. forces abroad.
Given that, I suspect the other objects we shot down were innocuous. Some have suggested one of the objects was an amateur hobbyist's $12 balloon. There is some evidence for that (the amateur group said they lost their balloon in Alaska the same day the shooting happened), but the group has never explicitly linked the two events. As far as I know, nobody has claimed ownership for the third object that got shot down that week over Lake Huron, and the government says they never found the debris from what they shot down.
So, for now, we simply don't know. Which to me means the truth is probably one that is embarrassing for the Biden administration: That these UAP weren’t threats, and shooting them down was an expensive overreaction.
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Under the radar.
Operators behind Russia's efforts to manipulate social media conversation on American politics boasted that they are only detected about 1% of the time, according to the intelligence documents leaked on Discord. The claim, which was first reported by The Washington Post, caused alarm from former government officials and experts inside and outside the major U.S. social media companies. The trove of documents allegedly leaked by Teixeira contained an assessment from military leaders that Russia is successfully boosting propaganda on Twitter, YouTube, TikTok and Telegram. However, some intel officials warned that the source of the number — a Russian agency — had strong incentives to exaggerate their own success at avoiding detection. The Washington Post has the story.
- 50 million. The estimated number of documents the U.S. government classifies each year.
- 5% to 10%. The percentage of those documents that warrant classification, according to Oona Hathaway, former Pentagon special counsel.
- 14%. The percentage of likely U.S. voters who view Edward Snowden as a hero for leaking information about the National Security Agency, according to a 2018 Rasmussen poll.
- 29%. The percentage of likely U.S. voters who view Edward Snowden as a traitor for leaking information about the National Security Agency, according to a 2018 Rasmussen poll.
- 49%. The percentage of likely U.S. voters who said Snowden was somewhere in between, according to a 2018 Rasmussen poll.
- One year ago, we were on spring break and didn't publish an edition of Tangle.
- The most clicked link in Friday's newsletter was a video of DeMar DeRozan's daughter taking over an NBA game.
- The middle: 64.9% of Tangle readers said the Tennessee legislators should have been punished for their actions, but not expelled. 5.37% agreed with the expulsion, and 25.1% said they didn't think a punishment was necessary.
- Nothing to do with politics: A Spanish woman emerged this weekend after spending 500 days alone in a cave.
- Take the poll. How do you view Teixeira's actions? Let us know.
Have a nice day.
Researchers from Moderna say they believe vaccines for cancer, heart disease, and autoimmune disease are showing "tremendous promise" and could be ready as soon as 2030. The vaccines, which use the same mRNA technology employed for some Covid-19 vaccines, have been in development for years to treat better known and less novel diseases. In theory, an mRNA vaccine could alert the immune system to the presence of cancer so it can attack and destroy it without targeting healthy cells (like other current cancer treatments). Researchers say some 15 years worth of progress has been made in the last 12 to 18 months thanks to increased attention, investment, research, and use of mRNA technology. While Covid-19 vaccines were often controversial, this could be one unintended positive consequence of the pandemic. The Guardian has the story.
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