Froma Harrop: No, 21 Is Not Too Young to Properly Handle Classified Documents
From the commentary: "The vast majority of our military is young," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. "So it's not exceptional that young people are doing important things in the military."
Online, Jack Teixeira played the hotshot. The Massachusetts Air National guardsman, now accused of leaking valuable military intelligence, regaled his chat group pals about the juicy top-secret stuff he could share. "The job I have lets me get privilege's above most intel guys," he boasted.
In real life, Teixeira was a 21-year-old living at home with his mom. When he was found out, his father, who lived elsewhere, asked the federal magistrate judge to release Jack to the family pending the court case.
"My son is well aware if he does anything against probation," the father sternly said, "I will report it." You'd think Jack was only caught wrecking the neighbor's mailbox.
The effort to shield the airman from the consequences of compromising national security hinges on portraying him as a kid who didn't appreciate what he was doing. He is accused of passing around hundreds of classified documents, and the Espionage Act carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison per count.
One of his lawyers told the court that while waiting for federal agents to arrive and arrest him, Teixeira "sat on his mother's porch reading the Bible." A touching detail.
Many have questioned whether a 21-year-old should have been given access to so many national secrets in the first place. But the issue is not his age. It is the incredibly sloppy screening process that let someone with his history get the security clearance to begin with.
It is astounding that the Air Force hadn't red-flagged Teixeira based on his online activities alone. His social media posts revealed an attention seeker with more than a few psychological problems. Teixeira posted that he wanted to kill "a ton of people" from an "assassination van" cruising "crowded" cities and suburbs. He called for culling the "weak-minded" and said was rooting for the Islamic State.
This wasn't the mouthing-off of a pubescent 14-year-old. Teixeira posted these thoughts this year and in 2022, when he was already handling highly sensitive documents. His lawyers lamely argued that he didn't understand that things he put on a private social media server would "be widely disseminated." But are we to believe that that someone hired as an information specialist wouldn't know that? Teixeira bragged he was sophisticated enough to gain access to sites run by the National Security Agency and the British agency for intelligence.
Still more shocking is that Air Force screeners didn't notice — or ignored — that he had been suspended from high school for things few would characterize as youthful indiscretions. He had been overheard talking about Molotov cocktails, guns at school and racial threats. The local police found Teixeira's mental state alarming enough to deny him a license to carry guns.
Shortly before he sat on his porch reading the Good Book, Teixeira tried to destroy evidence, smashing a tablet and an Xbox console and putting the remains in a neighbor's dumpster.
The Air Force has begun assigning broader responsibility for this disaster, starting with the suspension of two superiors at the 102nd Intelligence Wing.
Again, Teixeira's age wasn't the crux of this failure.
"The vast majority of our military is young," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. "So it's not exceptional that young people are doing important things in the military."
How true. We have 17-year-olds fighting in foreign wars. And in Ukraine, people younger than that are dying in defense of their country. Teixeira may have put them at greater risk by revealing the extent to which the U.S. had cracked Russian intelligence.
Bigger reasons for barring him from that security clearance flashed in bright neon. There was no excuse for this disaster.
Froma Harrop is an American writer and author. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @FromaHarrop.