How a teenager unearthed a huge cache of top-secret Pentagon files while playing one of the most famous computer games in the world
It started when a teenager searching for Minecraft tips in an online chat room found himself texting an anonymous stranger.
Their nerdy banter revolved around the intricacies of the video game that teenagers around the world are obsessed with.
But when the conversation took a brief, tangential turn to the war in Ukraine, the stranger said casually, “Here, you have some leaked documents.”
Seconds later, a slew of seemingly genuine, top-secret US government information appeared in the gaming nerd’s inbox.
This was one of the first sightings of the Pentagon papers – leaked from the supposedly secure nerve center of US intelligence.
And the bizarre online revelation has since escalated into the deepest national security crisis the US has faced in years.
Revelations of acts of treason wormed from beneath America’s thin cloak of secrecy continued to stun the world yesterday.
Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old US airman, was named as a leak last night when the FBI confirmed they had made an arrest.
News footage showed a man believed to be Teixeira being handcuffed and placed in the back of a military vehicle.
Revelations unearthed so far — which have yet to be verified by intelligence agencies struggling to limit the damage — include:
- Ukraine is desperately lacking in anti-aircraft missiles – which could delay President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s plans for a spring offensive.
- US National Security Agency spooks have been spying on their own allies, including Zelenskyy, and leaders in Israel and South Korea.
- Britain has the highest number of special forces covertly stationed in Ukraine of any NATO country, with 50 troops out of a total force of 97.
- A Russian SU-27 fighter jet fired a missile at a manned RAF reconnaissance plane over the Black Sea in September – nearly starting World War III.
- President Abdel Fattah Sisi of Egypt – a supposed American ally – has personally ordered the secret delivery of missiles to Russia.
- Russian officials boasted that the United Arab Emirates had agreed to cooperate with them “against US and British intelligence.”
- America’s Arab allies are being successfully courted by Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi.
- Serbia — considered a close ally of Russia — has secretly armed Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden’s White House last night braced for more details from the mass leak, billed as the most damaging intelligence disaster since the Wikileaks scandal a decade ago.
But intelligence experts fear the most damning revelation of all is the simple fact that the US appears to have lost the ability to protect its secrets.
The alleged source of the mega-leak of more than 100 top-secret documents was yesterday identified as a gun nut named “OG” who worked at a US military base.
He is believed to be Teixeira, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s intelligence wing who is believed to be behind an online gang called the Thug Shaker that first disseminated the data.
The documents were initially shared with a group of 20 to 30 friends on the Discord instant messaging platform.
The odd group is said to be united by their “mutual love of guns, military equipment and God” and initially shared typed text before sending pictures of actual Pentagon papers.
OG is said to have deliberately set out to sow chaos.
A colleague of his chat room said: “He’s a smart person. Of course, he knew what he was doing when he published these documents. These were not accidental leaks of any kind.”
A 20-year-old British college student named Wow Mao – whose Discord server hosted the obscure chat room where the leaks first emerged – was also implicated in the investigation last night.
The gamer usually posts eccentric political comments that have garnered him 250,000 YouTube followers.
But he scorned suggestions yesterday that he was to blame for detonating the powder keg of sensitive papers online.
British-Filipino Wow Mao admitted he found it “weird” that the documents on his server were leaked.
He said: “We are definitely not at the center of this leak, but my server was where a lot of people first saw these documents.
“It just got spread to the nerdiest parts of the internet.
“These are the kind of people who would find these documents – losers. This is what the US government really needs to fear.
“Any publicity is good publicity, I guess, as long as I don’t end up in jail.”
Britain’s defense chiefs were less amused last night amid fears the leaks could endanger lives when special forces are deployed in Ukraine.
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the defense selection committee, said: “It will come as no surprise that our special forces are doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
“But this deliberate large-scale disclosure of sensitive material could easily endanger lives and should prompt an urgent review of who has access to sensitive information.”
Defense chiefs were also alarmed by the leak in the potentially catastrophic encounter between an RAF RC-135 Rivet Joint surveillance aircraft and a Russian SU-27 fighter.
They had previously downplayed the incident as an accidental missile launch — not a deliberate act of war.
But the Pentagon papers revealed a clumsy Russian pilot who mistakenly believed a radar operator gave him permission to attack the British jet on September 29 last year.
The missile was fired and would have shot down the surveillance plane with up to 30 crew members on board – but missed by sheer luck due to a technical error during launch.
Leaked documents described the missile attack as a “near kill of a British RJ”.
Analysts said NATO might have been forced to enter the Ukraine conflict if the attack on one of its member states had been successful – triggering World War III.
Assess the damage
The US Department of Justice and the FBI have launched a criminal investigation into the leaks, while Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is leading an investigation to assess the damage.
The unconfirmed papers are said to contain a list of names of CIA spies working in Ukraine – making them targets for assassination.
Unauthorized disclosures are said to have strained relations between NATO allies last night.
Ukraine’s hero, President Zelensky, is said to have been recorded by US spies discussing a plan for a drone attack on Russian army units in Rostov, across the Ukrainian border.
US intelligence is also said to have bugged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and even the office of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s staunch supporter.
Since then, South Korea has been forced to deny leaked documents suggesting it acted as an intermediary to ship ammunition to Ukraine.
Documents also suggest that the US spied on private communications from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, fearing he was being too soft on Russia.
In his first public comments on the leaks yesterday, President Biden tried to downplay the crisis.
He said he was “concerned it happened – but I’m not aware of anything consequential.”
The UK Ministry of Defense also scrambled to limit the damage, warning that the documents circulated contained a “serious level of inaccuracy”.
An official said: “A significant portion of the content of these reports is untrue, manipulated or both.
“We strongly caution against anyone taking the veracity of these claims at face value and also advise them to take the time to question the source and purpose of such leaks.”ᐧ