Treason is in the eye of the charger.
Or as the commode conceiver and courtier Sir John Harington put it, “Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason? Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.”
Jack Teixeira is on the path to pokey, not prosperity, to put it obviously. His crime: embarrassing the mighty American imperium by leaking a tranche of classified information online. He was taken into fed-stody two weeks ago in basement-bro fatigues: monochrome t-shirt, gym shorts, Merrell Moab boots. It wouldn’t be a shock if the FBI’s Boston bookers confiscated a copy of Halo Infinite on his person.
There’ll be no MMOFPSs where Teixeira’s going. Nor are any foreign countries offering asylum. And, pity him, but his leaks won’t win the New York Times another Pulitzer.
Poor jejune Jack spilled the state’s tea in the worst possible way: acting alone, with no media assistance, dropping the goods on an internet forum, and all to show out to his chat chums. Now our vast surveillance state is throwing the book at him for embarrassing Uncle Sam in front of his “friends.”
“Friends” is used facetiously in both instances. First off, internet interlocutors can’t be your buddy. The internet’s disembodied nature only gives the semblance of human connection. As millions of children learned—or rather failed to learn—during COVID, there’s no substitution for face-to-face bonds. Teixeira reportedly did his document dump on a Discord server, a hosting hub frequented by geeked-out gamers, Redditors, aspies, and all varieties of the Cheetos-dust-in-neck-rolls phenotype. These slovenly keyboard-scratchers ratted on Teixeira, telling the media he only shared state secrets as a brag—some friends, them!
Teixeira’s motive is so pitiful that it’s readily believable. It’s also exemplary of the lonely spirit of our age—a single, childless young man casting for connection on the cold, glowing internet, thinking little of betraying his country in doing so. Teixeira—a National Guardsman and legal adult of drinking age—shared military intelligence with an irreverent bunch of teenagers. No ideology was involved, nor was there any pernicious or revolutionary drive. It was typical schoolyard boasting—a middle-schooler showing off his first-edition Pokémon cards to fifth graders.
Teixeira’s boyish insecurity landed him in secure lock-up. Worse, he’s being outed for sharing racist memes online. That makes him twice the traitor: for undermining America’s imperial efforts in practice and in its liberal, multicultural ethos. If Teixeira was holding out hope of eliciting sympathy, he can forget it. Any mercy is muted by dint of him being another dim white guy cracking racist jokes online. You know what other white guy would have shared racist memes if he was alive for the internet…
Unlike Pentagon Papers pusher Daniel Ellsberg, no post-hoc reputation rehabilitation will be due for Teixeira. There will be no expensively produced documentary, unless Twitch ponies up the money for one. Unlike Edward Snowden or Julian Assange, Teixeira has scant defenders, other than some screeching MAGA types scrounging for some Twitter likes. Even Vladmir Putin isn’t offering sanctuary—though jailbreak probably isn’t something he has rubles to spare for.
So why the situational standards on leaking? Glenn Greenwald draws a distinction between “authorized leaks” and “unauthorized leaks.” We’re regularly subject to “authorized leaks,” which take the form of anonymous quotes provided to mainstream news outlets—the leader being the Washington Post by close Blob proximity. Government agencies allow these q.t. nuggets to be printed, usually to manipulate public opinion in service to an agenda. Contrary to Greenwald, these aren’t really leaks, but targeted public relations.
Real leaks, such as those dispersed by Snowden and Assange, have no inside institutional backing. Most times, they’re prompted by a philosophical calling, or, to use a quaint term, a cry from a disturbed conscience. Other times, they’re purely political—see Reality Winner’s document leak to bolster the debunked Russiagate narrative. Teixeira’s revelations weren’t ideologically driven, nor was he making a clean breast. They came from what Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore calls the “crushing need for human beings to be seen.” And he was seen all right—seen right to the slammer.
Teixeira’s backstory is obscuring the fact that his sloppy divulgence did the American public a favor: it shed light on the government’s mendacity behind its involvement in the Ukraine war. One disclosure revealed US special forces on the ground in Ukraine. Since when did Congress authorize troop deployment? It’s been well over 90 days since the US heeded Ukrainian President Zelensky’s ask for arms and aid. We don’t know when the special forces deployed, or their activities. Back in February, the Pentagon reportedly pressured Congress to approve recon troop use in Ukraine. Did the military brass bypass the requisite congressional check? Is this what democracy looks like?
Moreover, how did a 21-year-old grunt have ready access to classified information? The Times reports Teixeira has been dumping sensitive material on YouTube and Discord for over a year. Do we need a total and complete shutdown of video-game-nerds’ classified clearance until we can figure out what the hell is going on?
All the more important: Do any of these issues matter when all of our political debates are meta-gotcha attacks with the aim of discrediting the “other side”?
“I predict that Teixeira will become a national hero to one political side or other in the US, depending on whose politics his leaks most assist,” columnist Douglas Murray contends. What Murray mistakes is America’s feelings on Ukraine: we just don’t care anymore. America’s spot as top unipolar dog carries no weighty consideration among the public. The top two Republican presidential candidates don’t think defending Ukraine is a vital national interest. The only congressperson demanding answers on our unauthorized presence in the war zone is QAnon Barbie.
The Biden Administration is now looking to expand its digital surveillance authority in reaction to the leaks. Whatever transient psychological highs Teixeira got from status-swaggering online are about to be dragged down in the pen. It’s just as well. Were the young Guardsman a highly decorated intelligence official with friends in Oval-shaped places, he would have gotten the star treatment, maybe his own cable TV gig. Elon Musk might even comp him a blue tick. Now it’s just the brig.