I Oversaw the Massachusetts Air National Guard. I Cannot Fathom How This Happened.

The government may classify too much intelligence, but that doesn’t mean a low-level employee should be able to see it.

A photo of a police barricade outside the suspected leaker's home
Matt Stone / Boston Herald / Getty

From 2006 to 2009, as part of my duties as the homeland-security adviser to then–Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, I oversaw the state’s Air National Guard. I have no idea why one of its members would even have access to the kind of high-level secrets that recently showed up on a Discord server.

This afternoon, Airman Jack Teixeira was arrested in connection with the recent leak of classified documents about United States intelligence gathering efforts, particularly as they relate to the war in Ukraine. The information in the leak paints a bleak picture of Ukraine’s continuing capabilities, particularly in air defense.

In my work for Patrick, the Massachusetts Air National Guard and Army National Guard were part of my portfolio; the governor, of course, was the ultimate boss of the Guard but, as is typical, delegated many of his relevant duties. This meant that I worked with the state’s adjutant general on matters as varied as budgeting, facilities construction, pre-positioning resources for an expected hurricane, and the deployment of personnel to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Based on my experience, I am at a loss to explain why a 21-year-old member of the state intelligence wing, who does not appear to have been working in any federal capacity, would need access to the kind of materials whose release has so unnerved the Pentagon and supporters of the Ukrainian war effort. Friends of Teixeira have told reporters that he shared secrets to mainly show off; the Biden administration has downplayed the consequences. Yet the release of the information is a serious crime—and could be a symptom of a broader problem.

Perhaps the U.S. government classifies too much information. Paradoxically, though, it then grants overly broad access within the government to the information that it has classified. Despite Teixeira’s junior position, The Washington Post reported, he had access to the Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System, a computer network for top-secret Defense Department information. Investigations after the 9/11 attacks revealed a siloing of information within separate agencies and led to efforts to promote more sharing, but the Pentagon might have overcorrected.

The National Guard, to be sure, is an essential part of America’s defense capabilities. It protects our homeland and can be called into federal service by the president. But, under normal circumstances, it works to address state public-safety needs as identified by a governor—whether those be civil unrest, security for a large-scale sporting event, or hazards posed by adverse weather.

State Air National Guard units have their own intelligence capabilities; an enemy could come by air, and sometimes errant flying balloons appear over U.S. soil. But it stretches any notion of homeland defense to think a low-level state Air Guard member should have access to materials about a war that the United States is not actively fighting and that poses no domestic risk.

I speak with profound admiration for the National Guard’s work. But if news reports are correct, the breadth of materials that Teixeira could view is unreasonable and unnecessary. If he took advantage of that access, that is his fault. But we are a nation that grants almost indiscriminate access to high-level intelligence, and that is our fault.

We’re only at the beginning of understanding how the leak came about—and indeed of what precise role Teixeira might have played in it. But from what we currently know about this profoundly dispiriting leak, we can fairly ask how the controls on highly sensitive information could be so lax—and how quickly the administration will move to fix the problem.