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New batch of classified US documents appears on social media

Saturday, 8 April 2023, 02:32
New batch of classified US documents appears on social media

A new batch of classified documents that appear to detail American national security secrets regarding Ukraine, the Middle East and China have surfaced on social media sites.

Source: The New York Times

Details: A new leak of classified information has alarmed the Pentagon and added turmoil to a situation that seemed to have caught the Biden administration off guard, the NYT said.

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Analysts say more than 100 documents may have been obtained. The scale of the leak, along with the sensitivity of the documents themselves, could be hugely damaging, US officials said.

A senior intelligence official called the leak "a nightmare for the Five Eyes," in a reference to the United States, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the so-called Five Eyes nations that broadly share intelligence.

The latest documents were found on Twitter and other sites on 7 April, a day after senior Biden administration officials said they were investigating a potential leak of classified Ukrainian war plans.

One slide, dated 23 February, is labelled "Secret/NoForn", meaning it was not meant to be shared with foreign countries.

Mick Mulroy, a former senior Pentagon official, said the leak of the classified documents represents "a significant breach in security" that could hinder Ukrainian military planning. 

"As many of these were pictures of documents, it appears that it was a deliberate leak done by someone that wished to damage the Ukraine, U.S., and NATO efforts," he said.

At the same time, one analyst described what has emerged so far as the "tip of the iceberg".

"Even as officials at the Pentagon and national security agencies were investigating the source of documents that had appeared on Twitter and on Telegram, another surfaced on 4chan, an anonymous, fringe message board. The 4chan document is a map that purports to show the status of the war in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. But the leaked documents appear to go well beyond highly classified material on Ukraine war plans," the NYT wrote.

Security analysts who have reviewed the documents tumbling onto social media sites say the increasing trove also includes sensitive briefing slides on China, the Indo-Pacific military theatre, the Middle East and terrorism.

Behind closed doors, as the NYT reported, chagrined national security officials were trying to find the culprit. One official said it was likely that the documents did not come from Ukrainian officials, because they did not have any access to the specific plans, which bear the imprint of the offices of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. A second official said that determining how the documents were leaked would start with identifying which officials had access to them.

The first tranche of documents appeared 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, the Dutch investigative site.

In Ukraine, Lt. Col. Yurii Bereza, a battalion commander with Ukraine’s National Guard whose forces have fought in the country’s east in recent months, shrugged off the news of the leak. He noted that information warfare had become so intense that "we can no longer determine where is the truth and where is the lie", the NYT added.

Background:

  • The New York Times has reported that classified military documents "detailing secret American and NATO plans for building up the Ukrainian military ahead of a planned offensive against Russia" have circulated on Twitter and Telegram.
  • Mykhailo Podoliak, an advisor to the head of the President’s Office, said the "leaked" materials are "photoshopped" and joked about the deterioration in Russian intelligence.
  • Anonymous US officials told Reuters that Russia or pro-Russian elements are behind the leak of several secret American military documents, which were posted on social media and allegedly indicated Ukraine's preparations for the spring counteroffensive.

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