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FutureStarrNew Leak of Classified Documents on Social Media Alarms US Intelligence
The Pentagon is investigating a possible leak of classified documents on social media about Ukraine's war efforts and military capabilities. Some photos appear to depict the current state of the conflict, casualty figures, and burn rate for HIMARS long-range rocket systems.
This leak appears to be a significant security breach that could hinder Ukraine's military planning for the spring offensive against Russia. Additionally, it could indicate that someone close to Moscow is behind the leaks.
The New York Times reports that several classified documents related to the Ukraine war have been leaked online. This marks the first significant leak of US-Ukraine classified information since Russia invaded the country in February 2022.
Media reports cite documents circulated on Twitter and Telegram that contain charts with sensitive information pertaining to weapons deliveries to Ukraine, battalion strengths, the rate of munitions expenditure by Ukrainian forces, as well as other plans. Although these numbers are five weeks old, they provide a snapshot of what Ukrainian troops may need for their anticipated spring counteroffensive against Russia.
One document, marked "Top Secret," appears to provide expenditure rates for the HIMARS artillery systems that the United States has provided to Ukraine. It also describes Ukrainian troop and battalion strengths, training schedules for combat brigades from January through April, readiness levels and equipment delivery timelines.
Another document, entitled "Status of the Conflict as of March 1," presents an up-to-date map of the battle that includes Russian and Ukrainian battalion locations and sizes, as well as estimates for total assessed casualties on both sides.
It remains uncertain how these documents were leaked onto social media or altered, but pro-Russian activists assert that the data had been altered to inflate Ukrainian and Russian casualties. The Ukrainian presidential administration has since referred the matter to the Pentagon where senior officials are investigating how this leak occurred and who may have had access to these documents.
Analysts who have reviewed these documents say they appear to be authentic, though they suspect the original versions were likely altered in some way to make them more advantageous for Russia - a common disinformation tactic employed by Russian officials.
This leaked material constitutes a breach of American intelligence, and Biden administration officials are working to have it taken down. As of Thursday evening, however, some of the documents were still being shared on social media platforms.
According to a separate report from The New York Times, document leaks that began five weeks ago give Ukrainian troops an idea of what supplies they might need for their planned offensive against Russia. They also provide a snapshot of what both Americans and Ukrainians saw on March 1.
A senior Defense Department official confirmed the documents appear legitimate, though they date back as far as February 23 and are marked "secret." While these updates appear similar to what U.S. military officials produce daily but do not distribute publicly, they provide more specific information about weapons and other supplies moving into Ukraine than what the US typically shares.
But some documents appear to have been doctored in some places, suggesting they may be fake or at least slightly altered. A particularly noteworthy example is a slide which states Russia has lost "16,000-17,500" troops during the fighting.
On April 6, Kyiv's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and top security officials held a meeting to discuss ways of preventing leaks of sensitive military information. One topic discussed was the publication of classified Ukrainian army documents on social media platforms, according to VOA.
On March 1, pro-Kremlin accounts on Twitter and Telegram began sharing photographs of documents marked "top secret". These files include charts and maps showing the location of military forces and weaponry in Ukraine as of that date, according to media reports and government officials.
These photos appear to be part of an effort by Russia to derail Ukraine's spring counteroffensive. As Ukraine fights to defend Bakhmut, which Russia has recently captured in a month-long offensive, these pictures could prove critical.
Kiev has appealed to NATO for assistance in countering Russian forces. It believes the invasion of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine have propelled Russia toward a new world order.
Russia has a history of invading other countries, such as Syria and Afghanistan, yet what exactly Russia intends with their latest attack on Ukraine remains unknown. According to Reuters, their aim is to regain control over the country's territory as well as its strategic oil and gas fields.
Ukraine's security forces have been under heavy fire from Russian troops in the east since Russia's invasion in February 2022. The Ukrainian army has been unable to break through Russian defenses and is suffering substantial losses as a result.
Ukraine officials have maintained that Moscow's objective is not to win the battle but rather to prevent Ukraine from making further progress. Therefore, the United States is providing Ukraine with weapons and equipment as well as training its armed forces.
Social media reports often contained highly inaccurate data, some altered by Russia's information service. These inaccuracies included estimates of how many Russian soldiers have died that were significantly lower than the numbers publicly stated by U.S. and NATO officials.
One Ukrainian presidential adviser stated the data appeared to be an attempt by Russia to sow confusion and doubts about Ukraine's counteroffensive, a strategy which could have negative repercussions for the country in the long run. Podolyak described the leaked information as "standard elements of operational games by Russian intelligence," but added it could also serve as an "informational counter-game" against Ukraine's plans for attack.
On Thursday, The New York Times reported on documents containing details about weapons deliveries to Ukraine and battalion strength, ammunition spending rates, and other sensitive data. This leak poses a security risk for the United States, NATO, Kyiv - which has been receiving significant assistance from both organizations as well as EU support and other international organizations.
The recent publication of classified military documents on social media has caused alarm about U.S. intelligence in the Ukraine war and led some Washington officials to inquire whether Moscow is behind this release, which appeared on websites like Twitter and Telegram.
According to a New York Times report, documents revealed sensitive information regarding weapon deliveries to Ukraine and battalion strength in anticipation of Russian attack. "We are aware of reports on social media," Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh informed the paper.
One document outlines American and NATO plans to train and equip 12 Ukrainian combat brigades as part of a counteroffensive in the spring. It outlines the equipment needed for those units as well as how many tanks, mechanized vehicles, and other military gear are expected to be delivered over the course of three months.
Another document provides details of the American High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) provided to the Ukrainian army. Additionally, it displays the expenditure rates Ukraine has made on weapons provided by America.
Analysts have expressed concern that the documents appear authentic, yet may have been doctored slightly to reduce casualties suffered by Russian forces in Ukraine. Although these data appear to be taken directly from daily reports produced by the Joint Staff, several people familiar with the leak told Reuters they don't reflect actual battlefield losses.
These alleged changes to documents are the first indication that Russia or its supporters may have caused the leak. The modified documents include battlefield status from one month prior, a section about how many Ukrainians died, other personnel numbers, charts and graphs - all indicative of what is taking place.
On March 2, documents appeared on Discord, a popular chat site. Soon after, they appeared in Russian Telegram channels and 4chan forums under the name of someone who was an active participant there, according to Michael Toler, who monitors these forums for VOA News.
Toler reported that some documents had been altered, while others appeared unaltered. A photograph of a Ukrainian soldier had been altered and other sections were missing altogether.
Furthermore, the death tolls were higher. Some pages were dated as late as March 23.
On Thursday, a spokesperson for the White House informed reporters that documents had been leaked without authorization and Vice President Joe Biden pledged that his department was working to have them removed. He described the leak as "a serious breach of our intelligence" and pledged that action would be taken.
Assange told reporters in London that WikiLeaks still has thousands of Afghanistan documents that it plans to publish online. He predicted some of them would expose the "horrors" of the war and require investigation into hundreds of U.S. attacks to determine if they constituted war crimes; some files could even be tested in court of law.