How a Wall Street Journal Reporter Did a Story About Jack Teixeira and Highly Classified Documents

From a Wall Street Journal story headlined “Reporter’s Journal”:

Prosecutors last week charged Massachusetts Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira in connection with a leak of highly classified government documents related to the war in Ukraine, intercepted communications about U.S. allies and other topics. The bulk of the more than 60 documents that have been made public appear to originate from the CIA’s Operations Center and the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. Teixera’s lawyer declined to comment. We spoke with WSJ national security and legal reporter Byron Tau, who has been following these developments.

Q: What influence could the leak have?

A: The leak could further narrow the pool of people with access to certain classified information within the Pentagon, which could have ripple effects on U.S. national security. While restricting access to classified documents can help secure the nation’s secrets, it also makes it harder to collaborate across agencies or offices. After 9/11, intelligence agencies believed that there was a failure to “connect the dots,” or to share information that might have tipped officials off to a forthcoming attack. But that comes at a risk: If too many people have access to material, it is hard to ensure that it remains secret. The Defense Department and other intelligence agencies need to balance these competing priorities constantly.

Q: How does this leak compare with past intelligence breaches?

A: What’s different about this breach is that the documents were “finished” intelligence products meant to be read by senior government officials. Basically, the documents are the equivalent of a classified news report compiled by America’s spy agents, somewhat akin to the daily intelligence briefing that goes to the president. The world’s most exclusive newspaper, if you will. Rarely have we as journalists gotten a glimpse of these kinds of documents in near real time.

Q: How do you report on a subject where so much is supposed to be secret?

A: People might be surprised how much is actually discussed openly, or how little bits and pieces of information that are unclassified can help a reporter piece together a larger picture of the U.S. intelligence agencies. There are intelligence and national security conferences that are unclassified and sometimes open to journalists. By global standards, the U.S. intelligence agencies are actually relatively transparent and put out reports about their activities. There are also public hearings on Capitol Hill where lawmakers often put top government officials on the spot with difficult questions. Beyond that, it takes a lot of patience. Reporters on a beat like this end up talking to a lot of former officials, a lot of government contractors, and having the door slammed in their face, both metaphorically and sometimes literally.

Q: What happens next?

A: Teixeira is due back in court in two weeks when a judge will decide whether to release him pre-trial. After that, assuming he doesn’t plead guilty or the charges aren’t dropped, he will go to trial at some point in front of a jury in Massachusetts.

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