- Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old airman, was accused of leaking US intelligence documents on Discord.
- The US military uses Discord to recruit young people who are enthusiastic about video games.
- SOCOM previously had to warn servicemembers about posting sensitive information on the app.
Members of a private Discord server where hundreds of US intelligence documents concerning the war in Ukraine were shared said the suspected leaker wanted to show off rather than fulfill some public duty, according to The Associated Press.
Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old junior-ranking US National Guard airman, was arrested on Thursday in connection to the leak of classified Pentagon documents. The Washington Post reported the documents were posted on a private Discord community or “server” named Thug Shaker Central, a group of 20 to 30 people of mostly young men and teenagers, according to The New York Times.
According to the Post, the name Thug Shaker Central is a racist allusion and was created as a space for members to share their love of video games, guns, and racist memes.
Some Republicans — most prominently Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene — have hailed Teixeira as a national hero, but members of Thug Shaker Central said otherwise.
A former member of Thug Shaker Central anonymously told the Post that Teixeira shared the documents to attain clout amongst his online community, where he was known as “O.G.”
“If I had to give a gauge on it, it would be more or less just some nerds wanting to glance over some stuff and compare and contrast and kind of have a little joke about it,” an unidentified Discord server member also told the AP. “At the end of the day, I mean we’re just trying to have a fun time.” It’s unclear if the AP spoke to the same individual as the Post.
Discord has proliferated to about 150 million monthly active users since it was founded in 2015, according to Statista, a data analytics site. The platform is a particular favorite among young gamers who use Discord servers to share gameplay clips or stream themselves playing popular video games like Valorant, Minecraft, Fortnite, or Apex Legends, a battle royale shooter game.
The attraction of gamers has made Discord a crucial tool for the US military and its broader campaign to focus recruiting efforts on online communities and video games. For example, a US Army server dedicated to its esports team, first reported on by the Post, has more than 17,000 users.
“As the esports industry continues to grow exponentially, nearly every branch of the military now has an official service-sanctioned gaming program,” a 2022 news release from the Defense Department said. “For some of these service members, that means it’s actually their job to play video games.”
However, the reliance on digital platforms means the US military also has to be wary of dealing with an increasingly online population, especially on apps such as Discord, where users may feel more comfortable discussing sensitive topics because the servers can be set private.
In March, the US Special Operations Command had to warn service members in a guide not to “post anything in Discord that you wouldn’t want seen by the general public.”
“It may be a private server, but conversations and photos/videos can be captured by screenshot or recorded and leaked,” the guide, which was first reported on and shared by the Post, said.
The guide also warns not to establish connections with users or servers “you do not know or trust.”
Dan Meyer, an attorney with more than two decades of experience in federal employment and national security law, told the AP that social media and video games have long been a national security concern.
“The social media world and gaming sites in particular have been identified as a counterintelligence concern for about a decade,” he told the AP, noting how foreign intelligence agents could hide their identities behind online avatars to connect with, for example, young service members gaming at the Norfolk Naval Base recreation center.
A spokesperson for Discord and the Defense Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.