Analysis & Opinions - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Reactions to the Leak of Classified Military Intelligence Documents

Security, intelligence, and cybersecurity experts share thoughts on the leak of classified military documents.

Belfer Center experts on security, intelligence, and cybersecurity issues have commented on the recent leak of classified military intelligence documents by Airman Jack Teixeira.

See comments below from Monica Duffy Toft, Ivan Arreguin-Toft, Bruce Schneier,  Calder Walton, and Juliette Kayyem.

MONICA DUFFY TOFT, Affiliate, Belfer Center

"There is trust built into the system, where you have to trust that people are not going to violate or break the law" in the course of their duties, said Monica D. Toft...who served as a Russian linguist with the U.S. Army during the Cold War.

Toft said it's not uncommon for young people to obtain high-security clearances; she was 18 when she received hers as part of her job intercepting Russian communications. But that responsibility comes with guidance and stark warnings, she said.

"There is a lot of training" on how to handle classified material, Toft said. "It's [made] very clear that if you don't handle it properly, there are legal consequences and you may go to jail."

Toft said extensive background checks are conducted on people seeking clearances, but those reviews may not uncover any red flags on an applicant as young as Teixeira, who served in the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard.

Military screeners would have spoken to his "high school counselors, friends, and neighbors," Toft said, but those people "haven't observed him operating in the professional world."

This is an excerpt from a Boston Globe news article, "Court Documents Hold Clues About How 21-year-old Guardsman Allegedly Gained Access to Sensitive Intelligence."

IVAN ARREGUIN-TOFT, Associate, International Security Program

Ivan Arreguín-Toft...who served as a US Army signals intelligence official in Germany in the 1980s, noted that many of the regulations around classified material were written decades before the Internet accelerated how quickly information is disseminated to the public.

Arreguín-Toft ...said that when he was in the service, people had to "walk past armed Marines if we wanted to take something home." Now it can be done instantaneously online, he said.

This is an excerpt from a Boston Globe news article, "Court Documents Hold Clues About How 21-year-old Guardsman Allegedly Gained Access to Sensitive Intelligence."

BRUCE SCHNEIER,  Fellow, Cyber Project; Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, HKS

"'s relatively easy to train an AI [bolding added] to accurately block hate speech by feeding it thousands of hateful online messages. But it could only be trained to filter out government secrets by training it on a stack of government secrets, and that's not going to happen....As for trying to prevent its publication after its been stolen...that could only be done by abolishing freedom of speech."

"As long as human beings can talk to each other, they will share secrets,” he said. “This is not a tech story. It’s a human story.”

This is an excerpt from a Boston Globe column, "Why Did Jack Teixeira Allegedly Use Discord to Leak Documents?"

CALDER WALTON, Assistant Director for Research, Intelligence Project; Assistant Director, Applied History Project, Belfer Center

"To my mind, it just beggars belief that someone of his level would have access to that kind of intelligence," said Calder Walton.... "He had access to the crown jewels of the US intelligence system."

"Walton said he will be interested to learn whether Teixeira had been tasked by superiors with compiling a daily summary of classified information, or whether he violated protocol in accessing the information."

This is an excerpt from a Boston Globe news article, "With Leak Case, Massachusetts Air National Guard is Thrust into the Spotlight."

JULIETTE KAYYEM, Faculty Director, Homeland Security Project; Belfer Senior Lecturer in International Security, Harvard Kennedy School; Member of the Board, Belfer Center

"...I am at a loss to explain why a 21-year-old member of the state intelligence wing, who does not appear to have been working in any federal capacity, would need access to the kind of materials whose release has so unnerved the Pentagon and supporters of the Ukrainian war effort. Friends of Teixeira have told reporters that he shared secrets to mainly show off; the Biden administration has downplayed the consequences. Yet the release of the information is a serious crime—and could be a symptom of a broader problem."

This is an excerpt from a longer commentary, "I Oversaw the Massachusetts Air National Guard. I Cannot Fathom How This Happened."

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Toft, Monica Duffy, Ivan Arreguin-Toft, Bruce Schneier, Calder Walton and Juliette Kayyem."Reactions to the Leak of Classified Military Intelligence Documents." Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, April 19, 2023.

The Authors

Juliette Kayyem Headshot