Explained: Alleged US Pentagon intelligence leak on social media

The Pentagon. (Image credit: AFP via Getty)

US officials are currently investigating the source and authenticity of the alleged information leaks. Subscribe to notifications Subscribe to notifications The story

Last week, the New York Times reported on a potentially massive US intelligence leak in which the alleged secret Pentagon documents were found scattered on social media from Twitter to Telegram. As of this week, the US Department of Justice and the Pentagon launched an investigation into the leak, not only to authenticate the many documents that have been circulated, but also to find the source. So far, there is evidence that the source was an American, as the documents affect US interests around the world, from war-torn areas like Ukraine to allied nations like Israel and South Korea.

Additionally, some of these alleged documents have been flagged as “NOFORN,” a designation meaning that these documents cannot be shared with foreigners, further reinforcing the idea of ​​a domestic leak.

The leaks and where they were discovered

Although reports from various news outlets, including the New York Times, suggest that a broader public became aware of the leaks when Russian Telegram channels circulated images of the leaked documents about the war in Ukraine earlier last week, there are now indications that this is the case that the leaks are there fact older.

Bellingcat, a well-known open-source intelligence organization, presented its own investigation into the leaks, claiming that the alleged classified documents leaked on social media back in early March. The documents in question were apparently published on a messaging platform called Discord, more specifically a Discord channel dedicated to the popular game Minecraft.

These posts were then picked up by users and reposted on the infamous imageboard 4Chan before being shared across the broader internet via more conventional social media platforms like Telegram and Twitter.

According to the Bellingcat investigation, bizarre as the source of the Discord Minecraft server is, it still may not have been the original site of the leak, with Discord members allegedly directing Bellingcat to another, now-deleted, server called “Thug Shaker Central.” refer. a supposedly conservative message board that featured everything from music-related posts to racist memes.

Bellingcat notes that it has not been able to verify the veracity of such claims independently of what it has been told by alleged members of the now-deleted server.

As for the information contained in the alleged leaks, the documents were far-reaching, to say the least, with the possibility that the already exhaustive list of leaked documents will continue to grow as the investigation continues, and more leaks will be unearthed in the dark corners of the internet .

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A larger part of the currently discovered documents related to the war in Ukraine with various charts and maps detailing the numbers of troops on the battlefield and the rate at which Ukraine is consuming certain ammunition, but do not contain specific battle plans. There are even documents about secret NATO plans to arm Ukraine ahead of a major counter-offensive planned by Kiev.

More importantly, the leaks appear to indicate that the war is not going entirely in Ukraine’s favor, as is widely reported. The documents show, for example, American concern that Ukraine’s air defense systems are rapidly running out of ammunition over the next month, specifically sometime in May. If the ammunition shortage is not replenished, it could allow Russia to deploy more of its relatively undamaged air force and potentially turn the tide of the war.

Additionally, the documents seem to paint a bleak picture regarding the still-raging conflict surrounding the town of Bakhmut, with alleged intelligence agencies suggesting that Ukraine’s last line of supplies for soldiers fighting in the town is under fire and on the brink of extinction Breaking stands Russia tries to encircle the Ukrainian defenders.

More controversially, the documents present a decidedly different picture of war casualties for each side, with Ukraine appearing to have lost many more soldiers than Russia in over a year of fighting, a claim that contradicts estimates by Western intelligence agencies. This fact is used, among other things, as an indicator that some of the leaks have been tampered with. By whom and for what reason remains to be seen

The documents also appear to show the remarkable extent to which US agencies have infiltrated the Russian intelligence apparatus. Evidence of this ranges from allegedly top-secret Russian documents detailing monetary incentives for soldiers to destroy or capture Western tanks deployed by Ukraine, to intelligence assessments highlighting the significant influence of the Wagner mercenary group.

While the group appears to be suffering heavy casualties in Ukraine, the leaked intelligence reports suggest that Wagner is making strides elsewhere in the world, with current operational attempts to undermine American influence worldwide and spread to parts of Africa and even Haiti, one Caribbean nation that is considered part of America’s so-called “backyard.”

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Beyond Russia and Ukraine, a growing number of these leaked documents relate to a number of other countries in which America has some interest, including allied nations like South Korea, Israel and France.

For South Korea, for example, a document indicates that the US was in the process of procuring artillery shells to replenish its stockpiles, but Seoul was reportedly concerned that the Americans would then ship the shells on to Ukraine, practically against South Korean policy Provision of lethal aid to active war zones would be violated.

Interestingly, an alleged Pentagon assessment for Israel claimed that the country’s foreign intelligence agency, the Mossad, was involved in instigating the massive anti-government protests that have rocked the nation for months, all in response to a controversial judicial review plan. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu dismissed such claims over the weekend, as did the Mossad itself.

Another document points to an American plan to eventually force Israel to supply arms to Ukraine, in direct contradiction to its current policies.

Regarding France, one of the leaked documents claimed the presence in Ukraine of a small NATO contingent made up of special operations forces from France, the US, the UK, Latvia, etc. France, of course, denied such reports.

This is just a small selection of the many documents that are yet to be unearthed. A common theme that seems to run through these documents is that American intelligence agencies have allegedly spied on all of these nations, even allied nations like Israel and Ukraine, although this is hardly a surprising turn of events given previous leaks of US Secret services suggested a lot every time the same.

A process that is still ongoing

At the time of writing this story, the leaks continue to circulate on social media, with this author confirming the same thing on Twitter with a simple keyword search. The same is no doubt true of many other social media platforms, particularly those with even laxer content moderation policies than the current version of Twitter, run by billionaire social media enthusiast Elon Musk.

For his part, Musk even seemed to scoff at the idea of ​​removing tweets circulating the allegedly leaked documents, noting the difficulty of removing things from the web once they’re leaked.

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Yes, you can completely erase things from the internet – it works perfectly and doesn’t draw attention at all to what you’re trying to hide

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 7, 2023

As noted by the NYT, there is likely also some debate as to whether such social media platforms should even consider removing these posts, given that they form the basis of news coverage and public discussion that might warrant that the above material is not removed.

Aside from the debate about removing the material, there is also a lot of debate about the authenticity and purpose of the various leaks. While the US claims it is currently reviewing the material before making any major assessments, Ukraine has already taken steps to discredit the information contained in the documents.

According to a statement by Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy, to the NYT, “There is not the slightest doubt that this (the document was leaked) is another element of hybrid warfare. Russia is trying to influence Ukrainian society, sowing fear, panic, distrust and doubt. This is typical behavior.”

Interestingly, some pro-Russian war bloggers also seem to have taken a similar position on the information leak, except in this case they claim that the leak may have been a deliberate leak from the West aimed at misleading the Russian command regarding the expected Ukrainian counterattack.

Regardless, the seriousness of the leaks can hardly be denied. Many of these leaks were confirmed as part of intelligence briefing documents intended for senior MoD officials, while others came from intelligence agencies linked to the so-called Five Eyes intelligence alliance between the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK .

These documents also appear to have come from a variety of American agencies, ranging from the US State Department to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. The potential damage from these leaks, should they prove authentic, is difficult to gauge given the breadth of leaked information, some of which was intended only for American eyes.

Given the nature of the internet and the usual scale of such information leaks, it’s safe to say that this current saga is far from over.

In the meantime, it seems likely that concerned governments will continue to deny or tacitly accept the alleged revelations made in the leaks as they surface.