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Why Discord is at the heart of a major US intelligence leak

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Users of the popular gaming platform Discord are being accused of a military intelligence breach, after classified documents were uploaded there and widely circulated across the internet. The person who allegedly uploaded those sensitive materials has been identified, partly by another gaming platform, Steam, and arrested under the Espionage Act.

The FBI arrested 21-year-old Jack Teixeira on Thursday in connection with an investigation into the leak of classified military documents that spread on social media in April. According to the New York Times, Teixeira is a United States Guardsman with an intelligence division of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. He was charged in Boston on Friday with two counts of Espionage Act violations: unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information and unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents. The BBC reported that Teixeira could face up to 15 years in prison.

According to the director of research and training, Teixeira allegedly published snapshots of printed classified briefings on a small Discord server called Thug Shaker Central, where about two dozen members, including teenagers, posted racist memes and posts about guns like Call of Duty and Halo. And talked about video games. Eric Toler of investigative collective Bellingcat. (tolerant said on twitter That Teixeira’s Steam account, which that identified himHas shown arma 3, Pubg: Battlegrounds, Garry’s Mod, counter attackAnd iron heart 4,

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US government officials have confirmed the authenticity of most of the documents, which detail strategy surrounding the Russian war on Ukraine and other sensitive information about Canada, South Korea, Israel, Egypt and other countries. Some of the documents include information as far back as February, meaning they are quite current. Teixeira was allegedly posting these documents as far back as December.

Bellingcat previously reported in April that those documents had been sitting on Discord for months, some spread among different servers. According to the Washington Post, Teixeira first published the documents on the Tiny Thug Shaker central server before a teenager in the group leaked them to a separate Discord server belonging to a YouTube creator named wow_mao. ten of those documents were also published minecraft Earth Map Server, where they spread to thousands of its members and, a month later, were discovered by the US government via social media. The leak has thrust Discord, which is usually associated with gaming communities, into the limelight.

What does Discord have to do with leaks?

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Discord as a company has little, if anything, to do with this. People are free to create and operate Discord servers without permission from the company; People use the platform for various reasons. Discord servers are social hubs often built around topics and people. Some people have Discord servers used solely for communicating with small groups of friends while playing video games. Other servers have thousands of members united around individual Twitch streamers or video games. minecraft Earth Map Server, where classified documents end up, has thousands of members interested in high-quality minecraft maps.

Discord as a platform, while largely associated with gamers, spread to the mainstream during the COVID-19 pandemic; It’s an easy, free way to stay in touch and share information with people. Discord says it has 150 million monthly active users, with about 19 million active servers per week. The chat platform features text, video, and voice-based chat, and people can also livestream video games and other media to each other. Because servers are largely private, it is up to moderators and creators to control what goes on in their space. This means that Discord servers can easily become places for bad actors to post, at best, tasteless jokes and, at worst, the expansion of a racist ideology by a teen who will bring tragedy upon a Buffalo community.

Discord enforces Community Guidelines to ensure the safety of its users, which is highlighted in the Transparency Report. But with millions of users, things can go downhill because of how Discord figures reactively enforces its rules versus proactively. This is how Teixeira was able to share so many documents online without anyone noticing until they spread elsewhere; Originally, he published the documents to a relatively small group. Members of the Thug Shaker Central Discord community, where Teixeira went by the handle “OG,” communicated because of their mutual interest in guns, video games and military equipment, the Post reported.

Discord logo / wordmark

Image: Controversy

Kalah said in an emailed statement that he has cooperated with authorities and that the investigation will continue. Its full statement is as follows:

We are aware that law enforcement officials have arrested an individual accused of illegally posting classified material on our platform. We have cooperated with the authorities and remain committed to doing so as this investigation continues. While Discord places a premium on the privacy of our users, we believe that our platform serves everyone’s needs when we collectively engage in responsible online behavior. Our Terms of Service expressly prohibit using Discord for illegal or criminal purposes, including the sharing of documents on Discord that could be verifiably classified.

When Discord’s Trust and Safety team becomes aware of infringing content, we take immediate action to remove it. In this instance, we have banned users involved in the original distribution of the content, removed content deemed to be against our terms, and issued warnings to users who continue to share content in question.

What’s in the leaked documents?

Originally, it was thought that the leak only contained information about Russia’s war on Ukraine, but there are other documents including “sensitive briefing materials on Canada, China, Israel and South Korea, the Indo-Pacific military theater and the Middle East”. Except for Korea”. East,” according to The New York Times.

The Times has a detailed analysis of the contents of the documents, of which there are at least a hundred. One document, the paper said, contained various scenarios that could affect the Russian war on Ukraine, including predictions of what would happen if Russian President Vladimir Putin or Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky died. The Times reported that the leak is confirmation that “the United States spies on allies and adversaries alike,” which could affect the country’s relations with its allies.

Other documents discuss South Korea’s apparent fear that the US “may divert South Korean arms to Kiev”; “Explore the scenarios that could prompt Israel to provide weapons to Ukraine”; and suggest that Israel’s foreign intelligence service “may have encouraged agency employees and Israeli citizens to participate in anti-government demonstrations that rocked the country in March,” according to the Times story.

According to the Times, several documents were later edited to change information about the war in Ukraine – in particular, to inflate casualties in Ukraine and downplay them for Russia. The Pentagon has not explicitly verified that they are authentic, but said that some “contain sensitive and highly classified material.” The Pentagon is still working through the documents, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told the press.

The accuracy of the documents’ intelligence is unverified. Defense Department Press Secretary Brig. General Patrick S. Ryder told a news conference on Thursday that the breach was in violation of United States security guidelines for protecting sensitive information. “It was a deliberate criminal act,” he said.

President Biden told the press on Thursday that he was “not concerned” by the information revealed by the leak, despite the top-secret nature of the documents. Nevertheless, Teixeira needed top-secret clearance for the leaked information; According to a CNN source, the 102nd Intelligence Wing to which Teixeira was assigned is responsible for packaging “intelligence from a variety of sources” for global senior military leaders. Teixeira was not working directly with intelligence, CNN said, but was required by the department to have clearance to work on the networks used to store the information.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said, “Those who sign agreements to be able to obtain classified documents acknowledge the national security importance of not disclosing those documents – and we want to send a message that That’s how important it is to our national security.” Press conference on Friday.

How did the authorities find the leaker?

We don’t yet know how the government found Teixeira, but the Times detailed a “trail of digital evidence” that linked the airman to the leaked documents. Many of the leaked documents were photographs of printed paper, and they often featured details in the background. The Times was able to find a Steam profile linked to Teixeira’s name; From there, it found an Instagram profile with pictures of Teixeira’s childhood home. The countertop shown in the photos matches the countertop on which the photos of the leaked documents were taken.

Two police cars blocking a two-lane road.  Two police officers stand in front of the vehicles.

Dayton police cars block Maple Street in North Dayton, Massachusetts, a half mile from the home where Airman Jack Teixeira was arrested for sharing classified documents.
Photo: Kylie Cooper for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Several members of the Thug Shaker Central Discord group spoke to the press, but both the Times and the Post said the members did not release Teixeira’s name.

The Associated Press reports that new court documents say the FBI used billing records from Discord to find Teixeira. Court documents said the FBI had received Teixeira’s Discord username from an anonymous source, about whom the man began posting classified information around December. Teixeira’s name and address were both linked to his Discord account. The FBI arrested Teixeira on Thursday from a home in North Dayton, Massachusetts. He appeared in court in Boston the next day.

Has this happened before?

This isn’t the first time that government military secrets have been leaked on gaming forums. Indeed, fans of the free-to-play combat simulator war Thunder Known for this, especially for leaking information in order to win arguments between players. In January, a war Thunder The player posted a user manual for an F-16A fighter jet called the Fighting Falcon, a model that had just been added to the game. A day later, someone posted restricted information on a McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jet. Last year, a user posted official documents related to the Chinese anti-tank weapon. Earlier, it was the United Kingdom’s Challenger 2 battle tank that was leaked, followed by the French Leclerc battle tank.

Developer Eagle Dynamics, best known for its digital combat simulator games, also came under fire in 2019 after a Russian employee was accused of conspiracy and trafficking for using the DCS World Forum to Could help with shipping the F-16 manual from the US.

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