Ukrainian soldiers in a tank near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Genya SAVILOV/AFP)

A new batch of secret documents detailing US national security from Ukraine to the Middle East and China surfaced on social media sites on Friday, alarming the Pentagon and adding turmoil to a situation that appears to have taken hold. Biden government off guard, reports The New York Times.

The report says:

The scale of the leak — analysts say more than 100 documents may have been obtained — along with the sensitivity of the information could be extremely damaging, officials said. A senior intelligence official called the leak “a nightmare for the Five Eyes,” a reference to the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, nations that share this intelligence.

The documents were posted on Twitter and other social media sites on Friday, a day after senior Biden administration officials said they were investigating a possible leak of Ukraine’s war plans, including the assessment of Ukrainian air defense capabilities. One slide, from February 23, is marked “Secret/NoForn”, that is, it was not meant to be shared with foreign countries.

Mick Mulroy, a former senior Pentagon official, said the leak of secret documents represented “a significant breach in security” and could disrupt Ukrainian military planning. “Since many of them were photos of documents, it appears to have been a deliberate leak by someone who wanted to undermine the efforts of Ukraine, the US and NATO,” he said.

One analyst described the leak as the “tip of the iceberg”. Earlier on Friday, senior US national security officials handling the initial leak, which was first reported by the New York Times, said a new concern had arisen: Was this information the only intelligence leaked?

The answer appeared a few hours later, during the afternoon: While Pentagon and national security agency officials were investigating the origin of the documents posted on Twitter and Telegram, another batch of information appeared on 4chan, an anonymous messaging platform. The 4chan document is a map that purports to show the war situation in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the scene of a months-long battle.

However, the leaked documents appear to go far beyond material about Ukraine’s war plans. Security analysts who reviewed documents posted on social media say this strategic gold mine also includes slides of classified information about China, the Indo-Pacific military theater, the Middle East and terrorism.

In a statement on Thursday, the Pentagon said the Department of Defense was investigating the matter. Off the record, officials from several national security agencies acknowledged the rush to find the source of the leaks and the chance of a potential constant “drip” of classified information posted on websites.

Documents about Ukraine’s armed forces appear as photographs of graphs of anticipated weapons deliveries, battalion positions, and other plans. Pentagon officials acknowledge the legitimacy of the documents – created by the Department of Defense, but the copies appear to have been altered in certain parts of their original format. Modified versions, for example, exaggerate US estimates of Ukrainian war dead and underestimate estimates of Russian soldiers killed.

On Friday, Ukrainian officials and pro-war Russian bloggers suggested the leak was part of a disinformation effort by the other side, timed to influence Ukraine’s possible spring offensive to regain territory in the country’s east and south.

A senior Ukrainian official said the leak appeared to be a Russian ploy to discredit a Ukrainian counter-offensive. And Russian bloggers warned against relying on any information in the documents – one blogger said the leak could be the work of “Western intelligence to deceive our command”.

Behind closed doors, angry US national security officials tried to find the culprit behind the leak. One official believes the documents did not come from Ukrainian officials because they did not have access to the specific plans, created by the Pentagon’s General Staff. Another official said that determining how leaks happened involves identifying which employees had access to them.

The first batch of documents appears to have been posted in early March on Discord, a social media chat platform popular with video gamers, according to Aric Toler, an analyst at Bellingcat, a Dutch investigative website.

In Ukraine, Lieutenant Colonel Yurii Bereza, the battalion commander of the Ukrainian National Guard whose forces have been fighting in the east of the country in recent months, played down the news of the leak. He noted that the information war has been so intense that “we can no longer determine where is the truth and where is the lie.”

*Translated by Charles Nisz


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