Martin Gurri

Why the media was terrified of the Pentagon leaker

April 18, 2023
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Over the last week, the international news cycle has been dominated by the Pentagon leak story. The online spread of classified intelligence documents, the arrest and charging of 21-year-old national guardsman Jack Teixeira, and the resulting questions of how America handles sensitive intel have provoked responses well beyond the insular confines of Washington D.C. 

Teixeira’s arrest has split opinion: is the airman a whistleblower or a traitor? In each case, the fact remains that a relatively junior employee is being credited with one of the most serious intelligence leaks in US history. Martin Gurri, a former CIA analyst and writer, joined Freddie Sayers on UnHerd to discuss this strange and quickly developing story. 

Speaking about the motivations behind the leak, Gurri said: “The problem is we have these institutions — that essentially are 20th century institutions — that believe in all these steep hierarchical things, like how you classify information and where you stand inside the organisation.” The analyst referred to Teixeira as a “Zoomer” who “has access to all this material. And as opposed to most people who used to leak, who are either being paid by somebody, or have usually an ideological axe to grind, or they think that they’re saving America from making these terrible mistakes, this guy just likes to look cool with his friends on Discord.”

Recent years have also marked a change in the methods used to distribute classified information. “When I first came on,” Gurri said, “if you wanted to steal something, you probably had to sneak in a camera and take a picture of it. Now all you have to do is put a smart stick on the server, pull it out, and you’ve got zillions and zillions of documents”.

The most interesting element of the saga for Gurri, however, was the way in which the American and foreign press worked to reveal Teixeira’s identity and then “rejoiced” at his exposure. “The media was actually hunting this kid,” Gurri told UnHerd, “engaged in some sort of collaboration to snatch this villain who was leaking American secrets.” This “collaboration” was not just between different publications, but instead a case of the media and the political establishment standing “shoulder to shoulder” in the face of a common enemy.

According to Gurri, where previously the American Government “had great influence over the other elites in the media,” this arrangement was “blown up” by what he refers to as “the digital tsunami”, the democratisation of information through the vastness of the Internet. “They just want the world to go back to the 20th century,” Gurri said of the media establishment, “and this is a good example of that.”

The former CIA analyst went on: “They feel that people are speaking out who should not speak out,” drawing comparison with the release of the Twitter Files at the end of last year. Because the establishment has grown nervous about the unrestrained power of the Internet, they are “trying to put the genie back in the bottle”, with limited success.

Asked where he sees this trend going, Gurri said: 

We are in the very early days of a colossal transformation that is going to take years […] When you look at the industrial age, which is when all our institutions were shaped, they are essentially anything that’s hierarchical […] There’s going to be a lot of turbulence; there are going to be a lot of bumps in the road. Every political question is going to get caught. It’s not like this is the only question of the elites versus the public.
- Martin Gurri


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