The arrest of Jack Teixeira has put Discord at the center of controversy – but what is it, and what role does it play in our lives?
The arrest of 21-year-old National Guardsman Jack Teixeira over suspicions of leaking US classified defense documents has thrown light on an unusual source of the documents as they entered the public domain: Discord.
The instant messaging and call platform was released in 2015, and has proven particularly popular with gamers, who utilize it in the same way an earlier generation of internet users logged on to IRC or bulletin boards.
But Discord has moved on from being simply a place for gamers to congregate, as evidenced by Teixeira – who went by the name OG on his own Discord – has shown.
Teixeira worked in the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, responsible for the upkeep of the internet at airbases within the state. He was given the duty title of “cyber transport systems journeyman” for his role.
A leak on Discord
And he’s believed to be the ultimate source of a series of embarrassing documents including information about the real estimates of Ukrainian casualties from Russia’s invasion of the country, which migrated from Discord to 4chan, military forums and then Twitter. Teixeira is the suspected leader of a Discord server called Thug Shaker Central (TSC).
TSC comprised between 20 and 30 teenagers and young adults who shared interests in guns, the military, and video games. Much of the media attention has focused on the casual way that the group also used racist language in their conversations.
Teixeira appeared to share the documents he surreptitiously obtained while working at military bases on Discord in order to impress his peers – though it’s not immediately clear whether most of them understood the gravity of the information he was sharing.
The information he shared included photographs of intelligence packets for high-level staff, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who leads the US military.
When the digital meets the real world
As with anything on the internet, the problem is that once information is posted online, it’s very difficult to get it back. While Thug Shaker Central had a tight knit community and controlled access to who could get on the Discord server, security of documents shared on servers is only as good as the people on it.
While only 20 or so people were on that Discord server, there are more than 150 million monthly active users across the entirety of Discord – meaning that messages travel fast.
And it appears that at least one member of the server decided to download the documents that were allegedly being posted by Teixeira, package them up into a zip file, then reupload them to other Discord servers – including one focusing on Minecraft. From there, they spread further, including on Russian-language Telegram groups dedicated to the country’s war against Ukraine. When they began circulating on Twitter was when the Pentagon decided to intervene, supposedly requesting that Twitter take down posts containing the information.
Texeira is charged with the “alleged unauthorized removal, retention and transmission of classified national defense information,” according to US Attorney General Merrick Garland, and is likely to be tried for breaches of the Espionage Act. He’ll likely become a historical footnote – but the whole incident shows the power and reach of Discord in our digital lives.
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