Written by Helene Cooper and Julian E. Barnes. Eric Schmitt, Thomas Gibbons Neff
On Friday, a new batch of classified US national security documents detailing secrets from Ukraine, the Middle East and China appeared on social media. This alarming development added turmoil to an already chaotic situation.
US officials warned that the size of the leak, analysts estimating more than 100 documents, and the sensitive nature of the documents could have a huge impact. The leak was described by a senior intelligence official as 'a nightmare' for the Five Eyes. This is a reference to United States, Britain and Australia, New Zealand, Canada. These are the five nations known collectively as the Five Eyes.
Ukraine claims that Russian efforts to undermine counter-offensive are reflected in the data leakage
The latest documents, including an alarming assessment about Ukraine's faltering capabilities in air defense, were discovered on Twitter and other websites Friday. Senior Biden administration officials had said that they were investigating the possibility of a leak of classified Ukrainian military plans. One slide dated February 23 is marked 'Secret/NoForn', meaning that it was not intended to be shared with other countries.
The Justice Department stated that it has opened an investigation and is in contact with the Defense Department, but declined to provide any further comment.
Mick Mulroy is a former senior Pentagon Official who said that the leakage of classified documents could hamper Ukrainian military planning. He said, "I am sure you will succeed."
Analysts have described the information that has been released so far as a 'tip of iceberg'.
Senior national security officials who were dealing with the leak that was reported first by The New York Times said that a new concern had emerged: Was this information the only one that was leaked.
Ukrainian soldiers load weapons prior to a training drill near Kyiv, on February 26, 2023. On Friday, PRIL 7 2023, a new batch of classified files that seem to detail American secrets of national security from Ukraine to Middle East and China appeared on social media. This alarmingly revealed the Pentagon's concern, as well as adding to the turmoil in a situation which seemed to have caught Biden's administration by surprise. (Emile Ducke/The New York Times).
They had the answer by Friday afternoon. As officials from the Pentagon and the national security agencies investigated the sources of documents which appeared on Twitter and Telegram, a new document surfaced on 4chan. This anonymous message board is a fringe one. The document on 4chan is a map purporting to show the state of the war in Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which was the site of a months-long, fierce battle.
The leaked documents seem to include more than just highly classified information on Ukraine's war plans. Security analysts have reviewed documents that are leaking onto social media websites and found sensitive briefings on China, Middle East, terrorism, the Indo-Pacific theater of war, and the Indo-Pacific.
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In a Thursday statement, the Pentagon stated that the Defense Department is looking into the issue. As the revelations continued to grow, officials from the department said that they had no further comments. Officials in national security agencies admitted privately that they were rushing to identify the source and that there could be a drip-feed of classified information on websites.
Documents on Ukraine's military are presented as photos of charts showing anticipated weapon deliveries, troop and Battalion strength, and other plans. Pentagon officials confirm that the documents are genuine Defense Department documents. However, copies of these documents appear to be altered from their original format in some parts. Modified versions of the documents, for instance, overestimate U.S. estimates on Ukrainian war deaths and underestimate Russian troop estimates.
Ukrainian officials and war-promising Russian bloggers claimed that the leak on Friday was part of an effort to disinformation by the other party, to influence Ukraine's potential spring offensive in order to reclaim territories in the east of the country and south.
Senior Ukrainian officials said the leak was a Russian attempt to discredit an offensive. The Russian bloggers also warned not to trust any information. One blogger claimed that the leak could have been the work of Western intelligence, in an attempt to mislead the command.
Officials from the national security department were searching for the perpetrator behind closed doors. Officials were scrambling to find the culprit behind closed doors. They were chagrined. The second official stated that the first step in determining who leaked the documents was to identify which officials had access.
Aric Toler of Bellingcat (the Dutch investigative website) said that the first batch of documents was posted on Discord in early March, a popular social media chat platform for video gamers.
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In Ukraine, Lieutenant Colonel Yurii Bereza - a battalion leader with the Ukrainian national guard, whose forces fought in Ukraine's eastern region in recent months - shrugged the news of the leak off.
He said that the information war had intensified to the point that "we no longer know where the truth is and where the lie is."
Bereza stated that 'we are in a stage of war where the information battle is often more important than direct physical combat at the front'.
Maksym was the only soldier in Maksym's unit who had not heard of this news. He said, 'We are facing a number of problems and I am speechless about this leak.
Experts from outside said that it was difficult for them to make conclusions about the source of information.
Kyle Walter, head of research for Logically, an English firm that tracks disinformation on Russian Telegram, said a number of prominent voices were calling the original photo, which was unaltered, showing Russian and Ukrainian victims a "Western influence" operation.
Walter stated that they believed the photo, which shows a high number of Russian losses and comparatively low numbers for Ukrainian losses, was an attempt to lower morale among Russians and Russian forces.
Jonathan Teubner is the CEO of FilterLabs AI which tracks messages in Russia. While pro-Kremlin voices claimed that the leak was a disinformation campaign by the U.S. or Ukraine, his lead analyst believed it could have been a Russian operation to sow mistrust between the U.S.
Walter stated that the doctored picture showing lower casualty figures for Russia and higher numbers for Ukraine than reported figures was discussed more often in Western-oriented platforms than Russian-focused platforms.
Walter stated that it is a common Russian disinformation technique to alter stolen documents. This includes some purportedly leaked by the Ukrainian government. Walter said that because the Ukrainian government dismissed these documents, as being altered or out-of-context, they did not get much traction.
Walter stated that there are many examples of documents leaked being used for propaganda campaigns, and more specifically disinformation. Walter said that the current situation with regard to these American documents is still unclear.
Walter stated that the Ukraine war has seen more leaks of documents than any other conflict, partly because open-source intelligence, declassified intelligence, and the role they played in the war.
Walter stated that the increase in incidents is more likely to be due to the current environment than a specific tactic used during the Ukraine War.
The original version of this article appeared in The New York Times.