Why Discord is Involved in a Military Intelligence Leak

Classified military documents have been found in various places on the internet, with a suspect now arrested.

Pictured above is the room of Jack Teixeira, where the discord leaks allegedly first began.

FBI investigators, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Pictured above is the room of Jack Teixeira, where the discord leaks allegedly first began.

Discord, a popular text and voice chat app, has been at the forefront of a national intelligence leak where classified documents surfaced throughout the internet. From as early as March 1st, 2023, Discord users posted a series of Pentagon documents on public Discord servers. Servers are groups of small or large communities who share similar interests in a dedicated space. The documents began circulating around different communities, such as Minecraft and Youtuber “wow_mao’s” Discord servers. 

Fast forward to April 5th, 2023, when the documents began appearing on the popular platform, Twitter, where the Biden Administration began to take notice and shut them down. Shortly after, the FBI started an investigation to find out who was the perpetrator of leaking the national intelligence.

The War in Ukraine, which has escalated since February 2022, requires military intelligence to be held top secret. However, the damages that the discord leaks have caused may not be so fortunate in the context of war. (Mil.gov.ua, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

The contents of the documents entail information regarding the recent state of events in the world. Information such as the state of affairs of the War in Ukraine and national intelligence surveillance of U.S allies and rivals were all covered. 

The leaker, Jack Teixeira, left many pieces of information and evidence which ultimately led to his arrest. According to the official affidavit by the FBI, a discord user from the original server where the documents were first leaked, was interviewed by the FBI and revealed many key details about the discord leaker. The discord user, referred to as “User 1” claimed that the leaker called himself “Jack” and stated that he was in the USANG (United States Air National Guard). The user also revealed that the leaker was likely a white male between the ages of 20 to 30 years old. 

It was noted that a few of the leaked documents appeared on 4chan and pro-Russian telegram channels on April 5th, 2023. A deeper investigation concluded that roughly ten documents were leaked on a Minecraft Earth Server, a server dedicated to representing the real-life world within the video game Minecraft. On March 1st, 2023, a Discord user by the name of “Lucca” began posting dozens of documents sourced from another server into the “wow_mao” Discord server. Going back even further, it was discovered that the source of the leaked documents originated in a Discord server named “Thug Shaker Central” to which a user had leaked the contents of hundreds of documents from as early as January 2023. 

On April 12, 2023, Discord provided the FBI with records of information regarding Teixeira’s Discord account. Information such as the billing information for purchases of Discord Nitro and social media accounts were all found connected to the account. In addition, the interviewed user was able to pick out Texeira’s Registry of Motor Vehicle photos from a lineup of several other photos. 

On the day of the first few leaks, the FBI noted that Teixeira had used his government computer to search for the word “leak” to find out if there was any government intelligence pertaining to the fact that he had leaked classified information.

With plenty of evidence, the FBI proceeded to obtain the arrest warrant for 21-year-old Jack Teixeira. In the affidavit, it was clear that in order to have access to these classified documents, Texeria would have had to sign a lifetime binding Non-Disclosure Agreement form which meant that legally, he was to not disclose the contents of these top secret documents to any outside sources. Two days later on April 14, 2023, Federal Authorities arrested Teixeira at his residence in North Dighton, Massachusetts.

Here is the service photo of the discord intelligience leaker, Jack Teixeira (U.S. Air National Guard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The arrest of Jack Teixeira comes with many questions regarding the integrity of our national security. How exactly was a 21-year-old able to repost copies of classified documents on a Discord server? Why was it so easy for him to copy them? 

In their response to the leaks, Discord stated their “Terms of Service expressly prohibit using Discord for illegal or criminal purposes” and their intention is to have it “to be the place to hang out with friends online.” Although Discord intends to aim for a safe communications environment, illegal activity can still go uncovered with Discord’s large user base. As of May 2023, Discord has 514 million registered users. With such a large number of users, it can be quite difficult to manage the contents of every message in both public and private chat groups. However, Discord has affirmed that they will take action when they “become aware of violations to [their] policies.” With technologies such as PhotoDNA, a method of assigning the equivalent of digital fingerprints to images, Discord is able to identify inappropriate content and remove them from the platform. 

Seemingly novel, the Discord intelligence leaks are not the first occurrence in which leaked military intelligence has surfaced throughout the internet. Enthusiasts of the video game War Thunder, a game involving the simulation of vehicular warfare, have in the past leaked confidential documents regarding the design of military vehicles. On the official forums of the video game, players were concerned that the virtual equivalent of certain tank models was not representative of the actual tank and in response, posted specific manuals regarding the tanks in an attempt to persuade the developers to update the specifications of the vehicles. Since then, moderators of the game forum have taken the images down and warned users about the terms and services regarding illegal content.

Discord as a platform has been known for bringing gamers together with its screenshare and voice chat capabilities. At the Bronx Science community, many students use the platform as a medium of communication for both entertainment and educational reasons. One student, Yafang Wu ’23, when asked about how he uses Discord on a daily basis, said, “I use Discord from time to time whenever I need to hop in a game of Valorant with friends. Although I don’t use it every day, it has helped me connect with people from around the world very easily.” Discord has also seen its use in education during the COVID-19 pandemic where many teachers held class servers to facilitate the discussion of after school work. Whether or not it is being used for a club or class, Discord is a means of easy collaboration for the community of Bronx Science.

 When posting information on the internet, it is always important to remember the principles of cyber etiquette. Whether or not there was intent to do harm, one must always consider the drawbacks to ultimately committing to a message.

“I use Discord from time to time whenever I need to hop in a game of Valorant with friends. Although I don’t use it every day, it has helped me connect with people from around the world very easily,” said Yafang Wu ’23.