Morning news brief
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The man suspected of leaking top-secret military documents on social media is due in court today in Massachusetts. The documents revealed U.S assessments of the war in Ukraine, as well as sensitive secrets about American allies.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
FBI agents swarmed the family home of Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. And the arrests followed a weeklong search for the person who exposed Pentagon secrets. So what do we know about the accused leaker?
MARTIN: NPR cybersecurity correspondent Jenna McLaughlin has been reporting on all this and is with us now to tell us more. Good morning, Jenna.
JENNA MCLAUGHLIN, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So this is a fast-moving story, so if you would first just walk us through the timeline.
MCLAUGHLIN: Absolutely. So the search for Jack Teixeira has been a whirlwind. Everyone's been working backwards to try to find the original source of these documents, some of which, as you mentioned, included sensitive details about the war in Ukraine. So after The New York Times reported on a handful of these classified documents surfacing in Russian Telegram channels last week, the investigative outlet Bellingcat and others, including NPR, found more images posted earlier on websites like 4chan and Discord, which is a social media platform that's popular with gamers. Once we found the documents on Discord, it really was like following a trail of breadcrumbs to the original poster.
MARTIN: So tell us, first of all, what is the government alleging that Teixeira did? And tell us more about what you found out about him and what he's all about, the people he's connected to.
MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. So we haven't seen a formal indictment yet. He's due to appear in court today. But we did hear that the Espionage Act is what he'll be accused under. I followed the trail on Discord to try to find out more about his friends. I was pretty quickly banned by those guys because I use my real name as a journalist, and they made it pretty clear that they didn't want to talk to me. But I got some information about those friends who are part of a since-banned private Discord channel where the documents were first posted. One of those users was a young man in California, and another was an unidentified man who supposedly originally created the channel that they gathered on together. Based on their social media profiles, it's really clear that this group was fascinated by things like Orthodox Catholicism, guns and racist and vile memes. The guy who supposedly founded the group was actually using a profile picture of a computer programmer named Terry Davis. He suffered from schizophrenia, and he talked about hearing the voice of God. He would go on expletive-laden rants. He was apparently a hero to some of these communities.
As for the family, they locked down their social media profiles pretty quickly. But his stepfather and stepbrother appear to have worked for the same military base as Teixeira, Joint Base Cape Cod. His stepbrother had deleted his LinkedIn, but it still showed up in Google results, and I saw he identified as a cryptologic analyst for the U.S. Air Force. We also obtained Teixeira's military service records, and he's listed as a cyber transport systems journeyman, or basically what sounds like an IT tech employee.
MARTIN: So here's the big question. We're here in Washington D.C. We know a lot of people with security clearances. The process of getting one is rather involved - lots of interviews, so forth. How did he have access to all these classified documents?
MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, that process can take years, but as an IT professional, actually, you typically have access to a lot of records because you need to fix systems when they break. That was actually the case for Edward Snowden, too, who leaked a trove of NSA documents in 2014. He was a systems administrator, though these leakers don't actually seem very similar. But, you know, this has caused a real problem. And the Pentagon is definitely looking at reevaluating who gets access to these kind of files.
MARTIN: As briefly as you can, what's next here?
MCLAUGHLIN: His court appearance, and then the Pentagon's got to get full damage control to try to reassure allies that the U.S. intelligence community can be trusted with their secrets.
MARTIN: That is NPR's Jenna McLaughlin. Jenna, thank you.
MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you.
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MARTIN: The Justice Department says it will take its fight to protect access to abortion pills all the way to the Supreme Court.
FADEL: The newest request - that the widely used abortion pill mifepristone remain available while a lawsuit makes its way through the courts. And late last night, Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, signed into law a bill that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. So what does this mean for doctors who provide abortions?
KRISTYN BRANDI: Generally, it's just been chaos, frankly.
FADEL: Doctor Kristyn Brandi is an OB-GYN in New Jersey. She says the legal battles are complicating the kind of medical care she can provide.
MARTIN: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin is here with us once again to tell us more. Good morning, Selena.
SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.
MARTIN: So reminder, just a quick reminder for those who may not have been following this - there are two competing decisions in different parts of the country right now that concern this abortion pill, mifepristone.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, exactly. So this is one medication that's used to stop a pregnancy, either for abortion or treatment of miscarriage. It's used in combination with another drug. And mifepristone has become the center of cases going through the federal courts right now. It's quite likely that the Supreme Court will weigh in soon. And in the meantime, doctors who provide abortion still have patients to see. They told me they're confused, they're angry, they're frustrated. Here's more of what Doctor Kristyn Brandi said.
BRANDI: Every couple of minutes, I'm getting a call from a friend of mine from across the country that's an abortion provider trying to figure out if they can provide care. Offices are getting calls from patients asking if they can still get their medication abortion that they have scheduled. So it's just been mayhem.
MARTIN: But I understand that access to mifepristone may change in some places in some ways as soon as tomorrow. So how are doctors figuring out what they're supposed to do or what they're allowed to do?
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah, I mean, a lot of lawyers are trying to make educated guesses here about how to advise clinics, but it kind of comes down to how much risk you as a doctor are willing to take. Are you comfortable still giving out pills you have in stock? Are you comfortable prescribing a medication based on your understanding of the evidence of the safety and efficacy? My colleague Sarah McCammon spoke to Doctor Colleen McNicholas at Planned Parenthood in Illinois, who said because of the supportive officials in her state, they're going to keep providing mifepristone.
COLLEEN MCNICHOLAS: And so for us, nothing changes tomorrow. We are going to continue to provide medication abortion in the way that we were a week ago.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Certainly other providers in less friendly states are making a different calculus. They're going to stop giving out mifepristone based on their reading of how the latest court rulings apply to them.
MARTIN: Now, this seems to be a lot to keep track of for patients and for doctors, and I'm thinking particularly for patients who are already in an emotional and stressful situation.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Absolutely. But, you know, the OB-GYNs I talked with yesterday made the point that abortion providers are used to navigating restrictions. Here's Dr. Jamila Perritt, an OB-GYN here in Washington, D.C.
JAMILA PERRITT: Every morning we wake up and there's a new assault - new rules, new mandates, new restrictions, new demands, all, though, aligned with the same intention to eliminate abortion access.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Now, one thing to note is abortion procedures aren't affected by any of these cases. They are still available in states where abortion is legal, and even medication abortion is available too, just possibly not with this drug at the center of this legal fight.
MARTIN: And finally, last night, the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, signed a law that bans most abortions in Florida. Tell us more about this law.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, it's a six-week ban, but it doesn't go into effect right away. It's set to go into effect 30 days after the state Supreme Court decides a case challenging its current abortion law. It would have huge implications if it did take effect for abortion access in the South. But for now, nothing changes.
MARTIN: That is NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. Selena, thank you so much.
SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you.
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MARTIN: North Korea says it tested a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile.
FADEL: That means new rockets that can be launched far more quickly than the ones in its current arsenal. Experts are saying it represents another important step toward Pyongyang completing its nuclear arsenal.
MARTIN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us from Seoul to explain the significance of this move. Hello, Anthony.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.
MARTIN: So what did North Korea say about this new weapon and the test launch?
KUHN: North Korea said that this is a new intercontinental ballistic missile called the Hwasong-18, which it improves - which it says improves its ability to launch a quick nuclear counterattack. And they said they want to make their enemies suffer from fear and anxiety. Leader Kim Jong-un was there to watch this test launch along with his wife, his sister and his young daughter. And any time there's a really important event like this, it's a family affair. And that's how they highlighted it.
MARTIN: Tell us more about why this solid-fuel rocket is such an improvement for North Korea's capabilities.
KUHN: Well, when you have a liquid-fueled missile, it has to be fueled up while the missile is sitting on a launch pad, and that makes it a target. With a solid-fuel missile, they have it pre-fueled, ready to go. They have it hidden in a tunnel often. They just roll it out on a truck, point it up and they launch it in a matter of minutes. So what this means in practical terms was spelled out for us by Jeffrey Lewis, who's an arms control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, Calif. Let's hear him.
JEFFREY LEWIS: It's just going to be much, much harder for the United States to ultimately find and destroy these missiles in a conflict.
KUHN: And as we've said previously, Kim Jong-un has already publicly listed the weapons he wants to develop in the next few years. And he's gone down the list and done it - hypersonic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, cruise missiles, train-launched missiles, all just to make it easier for North Korea to hit its enemies and harder for its enemies to hit it.
MARTIN: Do we know what the U.S. and South Korea plan to do in response?
KUHN: Well, just very recently, the U.S. and South Korea announced that they staged joint Air Force drills involving at least one U.S. B-52 strategic bomber. I think it's safe to say that they're going to continue to focus on deterring North Korea. They've been holding the most and the biggest military drills in five years this year. The U.S. is under pressure to demonstrate its commitment to defending its ally, South Korea. And the South is trying to reassure its public that they still have the military technology edge over North Korea and that the U.S. is giving them a greater say in how they deter North Korea. The U.S., meanwhile, continues to insist that the door to negotiations with North Korea remains open, but diplomacy has now been stalled for four years with no signs of any progress.
MARTIN: Is North Korea going to want to put a nuclear warhead on this new missile?
KUHN: Well, some analysts believe that the Hwasong-18 still needs to be tested, but essentially they have a new generation of missiles out now, and they're going to focus on new warheads to put on them. And that's why people have been expecting a seventh underground nuclear test for about a year or so. It hasn't happened, possibly because it would trigger a stronger response from the international community, but they need to test more nuclear bombs to finish the arsenal. So I think we can expect them to do that at a time of their choosing.
MARTIN: That is NPR's Anthony Kuhn, joining us from Seoul. Anthony, thank you so much.
KUHN: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.