There haven’t been many truly major cases of espionage that have hit the US intelligence establishment. In the 1980s, there was the Walker Family cabal, which if World War 3 broke out would have probably resulted in the deaths of a lot of NATO submarines thanks to John Walker’s finding out that the USN has, to quote him, “worse security than your average K-Mart.” 25 years later, there were the Chelsea Manning disclosures to Wikileaks, which involved a disaffected soldier putting the whole goddamn government intranet on a Lady Gaga rewritable CD and handing it to Julian Assange, who then used this to be absolutely insufferable for the next decade. Shortly afterwards, Edward Snowden took his thumb drive full of precisely how the US monitors literally every electronic communication on the planet out of his contractor gig and gave it to, among other reporters, Glenn Greenwald, who then used this to be absolutely insufferable for the next decade. Just a few years ago there were the Vault 7 disclosures breaking down the types of cyber weaponry the CIA uses to do its thing, which were leaked to Julian Assange, who continued to be absolutely insufferable.
And now there’s… the leak of pretty much everything the Pentagon had to say last month about a currently active major war, among many other things, including the results of its spying on close allies, by a guy who wanted to impress a tiny Discord he hung out on named after a racist, pornographic meme. It’s still so early that I don’t know who’s going to be absolutely insufferable about this, but the entire stupidity of the enterprise implies maybe it’ll be, I don’t know. Marjorie Taylor Greene?
OK. Let’s break this whole thing down. Because it really is so powerfully dumb that it requires quite a bit of thought to digest.
First off, if you’re going to show off all the classified intel you brought home from work, please don’t upload it to Discord. Discord’s CDN (content distribution network) is publicly accessible and searchable. No, REALLY. Nothing you upload to Discord is private. This goes well beyond the usual three letter agencies tracking the usual suspects, this is like putting your secret letters to your mistress on, I don’t know, Pinterest or something. So as tempting as it may be, don’t upload it to Discord.
Or your favorite gaming forum to win an argument. Please don’t do that either. War Thunder’s community relations people would really like you to stop it.
(This was back in the halcyon days of two days ago when it was thought the original leaks happened on a Minecraft Discord. No, turns out that was just a point of exit.)
Second, if you’re the largest, most well-financed military on the planet, with global-spanning capabilities for force projection, communications monitoring, and real-time satellite analysis, you may possibly consider not hiring your sysadmins straight out of high school.
Unfortunately, there is a thing among militaries, and it’s been a thing for a very long time: namely, that officers are treated like noble knights and common work is considered beneath them. This includes, well, pretty much anything involving a keyboard, so, at least in the US military, that work is farmed out to civilian contractors and enlisted men. Thus, a disturbing number of intel analysts with Top Secret alphabet soup clearance are not old enough to drink legally. This is why Edward Snowden had access to literally every major program the NSA had running on spying on everyone. This is why Chelsea Manning was able to bop into a secure facility and pretend to jam to Lady Gaga while downloading everything she could find. And this is why Jack Texeira, an E-3, a rank you normally get within a year of leaving basic training, was able, for months, to print out the Pentagon’s most secret briefings, prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, take pictures of the briefings, and post them to the Thug Shaker Central Discord’s #bearvspig channel to be assigned as homework.
I’m not even going to touch on how stupid Texeira was to blow his life on chasing clout with a microcommunity of disaffected fans of a particular Youtuber. Or the fact that he, and his fans, are casual racists who think the government can’t be trusted (well, in this case it certainly can’t!) When you’re a kid, you make kid mistakes. God knows I’ve made my share, and somehow thankfully managed to survive into adulthood without committing massive amounts of espionage to impress some girl I met at a bar.
No, the fault here lies in the people who gave Texeira his access, did not do even the most basic of security audits to make sure he wasn’t literally stealing everything not nailed down, and created such a relentless omnivore of a security state that your average idiot kid from upper Massachusetts gets to read CJSOC briefings and hand them out to his buds.
Maybe, I don’t know, we should do something about that. Maybe we should look at a culture in our military that piles life and death responsibilities on children without oversight, training, or consequence, and then become surprised when they commit wacky war crimes to impress their battle buddies.
Or maybe we’ll just plug this into our ongoing culture war and blame our political nemesis of choice for this (“He was a chud! Of course he betrayed his country!” “He just wanted to expose how we’re selling out our country to benefit Ukraine! He’s a political prisoner!”) and ignore any root causes whatsoever, because everything continues to be terrible.
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