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The Air National Guardsman accused of leaking military secrets has pleaded guilty

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Air National Guardsman charged with leaking secret military documents online pleaded guilty today in federal court in Boston. Jack Teixeira is a 22-year-old from Massachusetts, and under a plea deal, he could face between 11 and 16 or more years in prison instead of the 60 he would have faced had he gone to trial. NPR's Tovia Smith was in court. Hi, Tovia.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: What was it like in the courtroom today?

SMITH: Well, we saw Teixeira come in in an orange jumpsuit, his feet shackled, his hands cuffs, and he smiled and nodded at his family. And he appeared pretty calm and collected, belying perhaps the very serious crimes he committed. And that is that while he worked in IT support at a military base on Cape Cod, he used his security clearance to take highly classified and sensitive documents and share them in an online chat group. Teixeira had originally pleaded not guilty, and before he changed that today to guilty on all six counts, the judge questioned him about whether he understood all the evidence against him and whether he knew what he was doing was illegal. And each time, he answered loud and clear, yes, Your Honor. And, in fact, many of the documents he posted had the classified markings right on them.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what these documents were. What kind of information did they contain?

SMITH: Well, as one official put it, they were classified for a reason. And they went all the way up to top secret. So, for example, there was information related to what kind of military equipment the U.S. planned to give Ukraine and how it would be used, also a foreign adversary's plot to target U.S. forces abroad. Teixeira posted all this to the chat, where he knew there were foreign nationals. And officials said it was information so sensitive that Teixeira also knew that sharing these documents could have cost people their lives and could have caused, quote, "exceptionally grave damage to national security." Here's how Matt Olsen, who is the assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department, put it at a press conference afterwards.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATT OLSEN: It has been shocking to witness the public disclosures that resulted from Mr. Teixeira's crimes. Mr. Teixeira callously disregarded the national security of the United States, and he betrayed his solemn oath to defend the country and the trust of the American people that he swore to protect.

SMITH: And government officials were also asked about the kind of actual damage this all may have caused but declined to say.

SHAPIRO: Is there any reason to believe he was working for a foreign government?

SMITH: This does not appear to be a classic case of espionage. Court papers suggest it may have been more about Teixeira kind of bragging and trying to impress other users on Discord, the online chat room, as he was also spreading conspiracy theories there. Teixeira is quoted telling another user that knowing all these secret things was cool - and worth noting that Teixeira is a young man with a troubled past. According to prosecutors, he was suspended from high school for racist and violent threats, and he had access to an arsenal of weapons. After the hearing, his defense attorney, Michael Bachrach, said that Teixeira was remorseful and that his youth would be part of their case for a lighter sentence when a judge decides that in September.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL BACHRACH: Unfortunately, he is very much a kid, as you probably saw today. We believe there is going to be substantial mitigation that we're going to be able to establish as to why a sentence of no more than 11 years is, in fact, the just and reasonable sentence in this case.

SMITH: But meantime, as we said, prosecutors are asking for nearly 17 years. They say they want this case to send a clear message of deterrence to anyone else with access to sensitive information.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Tovia Smith. Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CURREN$Y AND STATIK SELEKTAH SONG, "GRAN TURISMO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.