The leader of a small online gaming chat group where a trove of classified U.S. intelligence documents leaked over the last few months is a 21-year-old member of the intelligence wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The New York Times.
The national guardsman, whose name is Jack Teixeira, oversaw a private online group named Thug Shaker Central, where about 20 to 30 people, mostly young men and teenagers, came together over a shared love of guns, racist online memes and video games.
Two U.S. officials confirmed that investigators want to talk to Airman Teixeira about the leak of the government documents to the private online group. One official said Airman Teixeira might have information relevant to the investigation.
Federal investigators have been searching for days for the person who leaked the top secret documents online but have not identified Airman Teixeira or anyone else as a suspect. The F.B.I. declined to comment.
Starting months ago, one of the users uploaded hundreds of pages of intelligence briefings into the small chat group, lecturing its members, who had bonded during the isolation of the pandemic, on the importance of staying abreast of world events.
Are the documents real? Yes, officials say — at least, for the most part. Some of the documents appear to have been altered, officials say. U.S. officials are alarmed at this exposure of secret information, and the F.B.I. is working to determine the source of the leak.
Where did the materials come from? The evidence that this is a leak, and not a hack, appears strong. The material may be popping up on platforms like Discord, Twitter, 4chan and the Telegram messaging app, but what is being circulated are photographs of printed briefing reports.
The New York Times spoke with four members of the Thug Shaker Central chat group, one of whom said he has known the person who leaked for at least three years, had met him in person, and referred to him as the O.G. The friends described him as older than most of the group members, who were in their teens, and the undisputed leader. One of the friends said the O.G. had access to intelligence documents through his job.
While the gaming friends would not identify the group’s leader by name, a trail of digital evidence compiled by The Times leads to Airman Teixeira.
The Times has been able to link Airman Teixeira to other members of the Thug Shaker Central group through his online gaming profile and other records. Details of the interior of Airman Teixeira’s childhood home — posted on social media in family photographs — also match details on the margins of some of the photographs of the leaked secret documents.
Jack Teixeira, an Air National Guardsman, in a photo posted on social media.
The Times also has established, through social media posts and military records, that Airman Teixeira is enlisted in the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. Posts on the unit’s official Facebook page congratulated Airman Teixeira and colleagues for being promoted to Airman First Class in July 2022.
On Thursday, President Biden said the United States was “getting close” to finding answers about the leak.
“There’s a full blown investigation going on, as you know, with the intelligence community and the Justice Department, and they’re getting close,” Mr. Biden told reporters on a visit to Dublin.
It was not immediately clear if a young Air National Guardsman in his position could have had access to such highly sensitive briefings. Officials within the U.S. government with security clearance often receive such documents through daily emails, one official told The Times, and those emails might then be automatically forwarded to other people.
Airman Teixeira’s mother, Dawn, speaking outside her home in Massachusetts on Thursday, confirmed that her son was a member of the Air National Guard and said he had recently been working overnight shifts at a base on Cape Cod. In the last few days, he had changed his phone number, she said.
Later, someone who appeared to be Airman Teixeira drove onto the property in a red pickup truck.
When Times reporters approached the house again, the truck was parked in the driveway. Airman Teixeira’s mother and a man were standing outside in the driveway.
When asked if Airman Teixeira was there and willing to speak, the man said: “He needs to get an attorney if things are flowing the way they are going right now. The Feds will be around soon, I’m sure.”
Members of Thug Shaker Central who spoke to The Times said that the documents they discussed online were meant to be purely informative. While many pertained to the war in Ukraine, the members said they took no side in the conflict.
The documents, they said, only started to get wider attention when one of the teenage members of the group took a few dozen of them and posted them to a public online forum. From there they were picked up by Russian-language Telegram channels and then The New York Times, which first reported on them.
The person who leaked, they said, was no whistleblower, and the secret documents were never meant to leave their small corner of the internet.
“This guy was a Christian, anti-war, just wanted to inform some of his friends about what’s going on,” said one of the person’s friends from the community, a 17-year-old recent high school graduate. “We have some people in our group who are in Ukraine. We like fighting games, we like war games.”
Adam Goldman, C.J. Chivers, Kitty Bennett and Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.