The ongoing scandal over leaked US intel documents, explained

Last week, news organizations discovered something quite extraordinary – a collection of 100 secret US military and intelligence documents that had been shared across the vast reaches of the internet.

There are suggestions that NATO has up to 100 special operations officials in Ukraine. They indicate that the US intelligence groups have infiltrated Russian intelligence and have knowledge of hacking attempts on a Canadian pipeline. Furthermore, the US has gleaned details on spying activities from partners such as South Korea, Egypt, and Israel.

On 4chan and subsequently, similar to a Discord server focused on Minecraft, the records emerged over a month prior on unidentified, distributed internet forums dedicated to gaming, and most strangely.

Now, more details are beginning to emerge about the alleged leaker, described as a “charismatic young gun enthusiast,” who worked on a military base and filmed a shooting after yelling antisemitic and racial slurs at a tight-knit group of mostly young men. The Washington Post reported that the two members of the group, who spoke to the alleged leaker, had found hundreds of unreported yet posted documents on the original Discord group where they shared intelligence and discussed their shared passion for weapons.

The recently emerged classified files may offer insights into the role of the US in defending Ukraine from Russia’s invasion, as well as represent a significant breach of intelligence. These documents may have appeared as daily briefings for top military leaders and could have been photographed after being folded.

It is challenging to make broad generalizations, so it is necessary to independently confirm them due to the inability to verify the authenticity of several signs that were tampered with. The fact that these documents, with ambiguous origins, were initially posted on the platform is somewhat surprising.

The US government is in a race to contain the repercussions. The Justice Department has initiated an inquiry into the leaks, while the Defense Department and various other government agencies are evaluating any potential effects on national security. Simultaneously, Pentagon leaders are working urgently and angrily to rectify the harm caused. Congress has requested a briefing, and allies are said to be both frustrated and perplexed.

“He told me that we need to think more clearly about the way counterintelligence should be more coherent. He also mentioned that the latest indication shows that the intelligence bureaucracy is remarkably inept and adept in this new era of misinformation. According to an expert, Gavin Wilde, who previously worked at Carnegie Endowment, the documents expose a contradiction between the incredible intelligence-gathering capacity of US agencies and their sloppiness in handling sensitive information.”

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Wilde continued, “It’s a paradox for me.” While it is supposed to excel at showing an intelligence community charged with doing something while being catastrophically inept in another aspect, what really vexes me is that these documents appear to gain popular notice for them, and it took them over a month to do so.

What the disclosures unveil

The most noteworthy aspect of the intelligence reports on Russian and Ukrainian positions is the variety of detailed maps included in them. It is speculated that there may be thousands or even hundreds of sources who have access to these documents. According to several former officials I spoke with, it appears that individuals with access to these documents may have shared them with a high-level US military leader, possibly for a briefing or for inclusion in a book.

Glenn Gerstell, who served as the general counsel for the National Security Agency from 2015 to 2020, now works as a consultant for Strategies Global Beacon firm. He states, “I want to emphasize that the documents reveal potentially important methods and sources.”

This could potentially undermine the United States’ capacity, for instance, to gather intelligence on Russia.

The breadth and depth of the documents are also significant. These documents cover a wide range of topics, specifically focusing on Ukraine. They are dated either in early March or late February of this year, making them current. The scale of the leaked documents, published by Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, is not near the level of a large quantity. While there are 100 documents, it is not truly substantial. When asked about the leak, John Kirby, the spokesperson for the White House, stated that if there were more files out there or if the leak contained additional information, they were not aware of it.

The Post stated on Wednesday that Bellingcat had previously flagged this group as likely the origin of the documents. It was mentioned that the alleged leaker, known as “Thug Shaker Central,” shared about 300 classified photos, which were reviewed by the group.

According to intelligence signals, a document from February 2023 shows that Ukraine could assist Jerusalem in providing lethal aid. The Israeli government, including Mossad officials and Israeli citizens, has strongly criticized this action and called for explicit reforms, including a proposed overhaul of the judicial system. The Washington Post cites a document that states the Mossad agency has advocated for protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has supported the push for major judicial reforms. These findings reveal surprising information about Israeli intelligence and the country’s political landscape.

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According to a leaked document, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi recently ordered his subordinates to covertly ship 40,000 rockets produced by Russia. This reveals a possible scheme to receive support from Russia in terms of armaments. Additionally, Egypt, which is considered one of the closest Middle Eastern allies of the US, has received billions of dollars in military aid. Consequently, there have been revelations about Egypt’s actions.

As per a document, Serbia, which has remained impartial in the Ukraine conflict, has consented to provide arms to Kyiv. Additional disclosures persist to emerge. (Serbia refutes this.)

Recirculating the documents, Pro-Russia accounts on the social media platform Telegram manipulated some of those casualty figures. As of February, Ukraine had experienced 124,500 to 131,000 casualties, with up to 17,500 fatalities, while another report indicates that the Russians have incurred 189,500 to 223,000 casualties, including up to 43,000 fatalities. The New York Times states, “One document states that the Russians have suffered 189,500 to 223,000 casualties, including up to 43,000 fatalities.” The leaked files provide fresh information about personnel losses in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which both sides of the dispute have attempted to conceal.

A top-secret document reveals that the Ukrainian military acknowledges its limited territorial gains in the counteroffensive. It highlights the shortcomings of the Ukrainian military and suggests that assessing the path of tanks on the battlefield could be helpful, especially considering the frozen ground and the movements of Russian and Ukrainian troops. The document also includes several detailed maps showing the state of weaponry and troop movements.

Russia and other adversaries of the US may obtain outdated information by being able to reverse-engineer the origins of US intelligence, considering the dates indicated on the files.

Gerstell states, “And this is somewhat distinctive.” “In previous disclosures, individuals asserted that, but what they genuinely implied was it was politically humiliating or uncomfortable or harmed our connections with partners. This has the authentic potential for genuinely harming national security.”

What caused the leakage of these documents, and what are the consequences moving forward?

Has the person who leaked the information still not been verified? The Post’s report included a photograph of an individual who, as stated by a member of the Discord group, shared the documents partly to impress friends and partly to keep us informed. However, the identity of this person is still unknown, and there are still numerous unanswered questions regarding their motives and sources.

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It is probable that Russian President Vladimir Putin will view the leak in a positive light for two main reasons: gaining a victory in terms of propaganda and obtaining valuable knowledge about the operations of US agencies, regardless of the actual content of the files.

Earlier this week, Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson for the Kremlin, stated, “I know and you know that there is always a tendency to blame Russia for everything. I cannot comment on this in any way.” Some analysts had previously argued that the origin of this Russian intelligence is unclear, despite the fact that it seems files are being posted on arbitrary forums and they want to publicize information from a source that could be a valuable asset. This suggests that it is not a malevolent or influential operation by intelligence agencies.

President Joe Biden said that the investigation is closing in on identifying the leaker who plugged the leak. He expressed concern about what happened and downplayed the content of the leaks.

I told Wilde, “It is important for everyone to reassess how comfortable they are with sharing and to be cautious when starting a new cycle, as it can definitely kick off a cycle where everybody locks things down.” In some cases, it may be necessary to shut down certain channels of intelligence sharing, which could potentially be detrimental to policymaking in the US. This could also lead to increased concerns and a significant tightening of access to certain intelligence.

Discord stated that they were collaborating with the inquiry and were unable to offer any further information.

“This information is not intended for public consumption and should not be there. If you don’t mind me saying, it doesn’t have any business on the front pages of television or newspapers. Kirby told reporters from the White House lectern, this is information that does not belong in the public domain.”

It is now evident that the US involvement in high-tech wars highlights the profoundly human aspects. However, there is always a potential breach when humans have access to highly classified information. This war between humans is akin to Ukraine providing advanced US weaponry. People seem to make mistakes and, apparently, love showing off their access to posts on platforms like Discord.

The exposed papers and their alleged sources encompass additional information regarding the disclosures, and this narrative was initially released on April 10 and has been revised twice with updates on April 13 at 11:30 am ET.

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