Air Force Looks to Better Control Access to Classified Data Following Intelligence Leak

On Monday, the Air Force said it is looking at ways to better control access to classified information following revelations that superiors of the Massachusetts Air National Guard member who is charged with leaking highly classified had previously raised concerns internally about his handling of sensitive data. 

Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters that the Air Force needs to enforce the rules better that govern access to classified information based on whether someone with a security clearance needs to possibly know the information. 

“It’s a long-standing tenet that you don’t get to look at something classified unless there’s a legitimate reason for you to look at it,” said Kendall. “Just because you happen to have a certain level of clearance doesn’t mean you get access to all the material at that level. So, we’re taking a hard look at some practices around that.” Kendall said he doesn’t think the service enforced the rule strongly enough. 

Lawyers for the Justice Department said last week that superiors voiced concerns on several occasions about Air Guard member Jack Teixeira’s handling of highly classified information. They laid out the issue in court papers and urged a magistrate judge to keep Teixeira behind bars while awaiting trial in the case that stems from the most significant intelligence leak in years. 

Teixeira is accused of sharing highly classified documents about top national security issues in a chatroom on a social media platform, Discord, that started as a gamers’ hangout. He hasn’t entered a plea yet.

Air Force Secretary gives leaders 30 days to take a close look at intelligence practices

As a result of the Teixeira case, Kendall gave Air Force leaders 30 days to take an in-depth look at their practices to determine if the department has been careful about prioritizing the need to get information about operations to those who need it while being careful enough about spreading intelligence too broadly. The inspector general is also investigating the matter. 

Secretary Kendall said there are ways to adjust digital systems so that when classified information is put online, only some people with clearance on that system are automatically allowed access. 

In their filing, prosecutors told the judge that Teixeira continued leaking documents even after he was reprimanded by superiors on two separate occasions last year over “concerning actions” he took regarding classified information. 

A memo in September from the Air National Guard 102nd Intelligence Wing prosecutors filed in courts stated Teixeira had been seen taking notes on classified intelligence information and placing the notes in his pocket. At the time, Teixeira was instructed to no longer take notes in any form on classified intelligence information, according to the memo.

In a separate memo from late October, a superior had been made aware that Teixeira was “potentially ignoring the cease-and-desist order on deep diving into intelligence information” that was given to him the month prior. The memo said Teixeira attended a meeting where he asked “very specific questions.” He was told again to focus on his job and not take any “deep dives” into any classified intelligence information.” 

The disclosures have raised questions about why military officials didn’t take further action and why Teixeira continued accessing classified information after his superiors raised concerns.