21-Year-Old Suspect in US Intel Leak Identified Using Instagram Photos

A 21-year-old National Guardsman was arrested yesterday in connection with the leak of hundreds of highly classified Pentagon intelligence documents. It has since come to light that the suspect was identified thanks to photos of him that had been shared on Instagram.

Airman First Class Jack Douglas Teixeira was taken into custody by heavily armed FBI agents at his mother’s house in North Dighton, Massachusetts, yesterday afternoon. He will now face charges of leaking classified documents after he had published photos of pages containing national security secrets, which the US had not shared even with allies, to an online gaming chat group on Discord called Thug Shaker Central.

The circulation of the documents has been both alarming and embarrassing for the US government, as it reveals everything from US involvement in the Russo-Ukrainian War — including the extent to which US intelligence has been able to surveil Russia — to foreign intelligence assessments of nations that include China, Iran, and North Korea.

The New York Times reports that it had uncovered Teixeira’s identity prior to the arrest by following a trail of digital evidence. They first identified a Steam gaming profile belonging to him that mentioned an Instagram account, and from there, they were able to identify Instagram accounts belonging to his family members.

Upon discovering Instagram photos of Teixeira in his childhood home, the sharp-eyed Times investigation team noticed that the kitchen counters in the photos exactly matched the countertops seen in the background of the leaked photos.

“A breakthrough in our investigation came when the team identified a Steam profile in Airman Teixeira’s name that led to an Instagram profile with photos of the exact location where leaked docs were photographed — a kitchen countertop in his childhood home,” writes Christiaan Triebert of the Visual Investigations team at the Times.

“Among the dozens of birthday wishes and baby pictures of Airman Teixeira on his sister’s social media feeds was a clue that he might be the leaker,” the Times writes. “One photograph captured a kitchen countertop that appeared identical to the surface on which the classified documents were photographed.”

The Times shared one example in which the patterns seen in one of the leak photos seemed to exactly match countertop patterns seen in an Instagram photo.

Apparent matches between countertop patterns seen in one of the classified document leak photos (left) and one of Jack Douglas Teixeira’s personal Instagram photos (right). Image: New York Times.

“The granite countertop bearing a distinctive pattern and white floor tiles are visible in the margins of some of the leaked intelligence briefings,” the New York Times writes. “The same interior decor is visible in photographs of the family home posted online by one of Airman Teixeira’s immediate relatives.”

Teixeira made his initial appearance in court today, and he was charged with unlawfully copying classified defense records and unlawfully transmitting classified defense records. If convicted, Teixeira could face up to 10 years in prison for each of the counts.