Leak of classified US documents: what we know and what they reveal

At least several dozen classified US documents have leaked on social media. A situation that led the Pentagon to open an investigation on April 6 to determine the origin of the leaks and reassure its allies. Several writings contain revelations about the war in Ukraine or about alleged espionage by several countries close to Washington. France 24 takes stock.

The Pentagon in troubled waters after a leak of classified documents. Less than a week after the revelation of an ongoing investigation by US authorities to try to identify the source of these leaks, the United States is trying to reassure its allies – including Ukraine – on the subject.

“We are aware of press reports regarding social media posts and the department is reviewing the matter,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said April 6. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reiterated on Tuesday (April 11th) that Washington takes this leak of classified documents “very seriously”.

What are these documents, their provenance, their reliability ? What do they reveal and what reactions did they trigger ?

This leak of secret documents includes US intelligence assessments and reports related to the war in Ukraine, but also about other countries including allies of the United States – South Korea, Israel or even Egypt.

A variety of documents have been shared in recent days on different social networks : summary slides describing Ukrainian military positions, assessments of international support for Ukraine…

Most of the information in these documents “was gathered over the winter and published in late February and early March, so it does not necessarily represent a current view,” says the Washington Post.

It is difficult in the state to assess the quantity of leaked documents. Several dozen have been consulted by American media and international press agencies, but the number could be even greater. The Associated Press (AP) reports that “the total number would be in the order of several hundred” documents released.

  • Where do these documents come from?

Nobody knows for sure right now. This is also why the Pentagon declared, on April 6, to conduct an investigation to identify the source or sources behind these leaks.

“(These documents) were somewhere on the web, and we don’t know where exactly, or who had access to them at the time. We just don’t know,” the defense secretary said Tuesday, Lloyd Austin. “We will continue to investigate and turn every stone until we find the source and extent of the problem.”

Before being shared on social networks such as Twitter, 4Chan or Telegram, these classified documents “had been on Discord since the beginning of March”, according to analysts quoted by the New York Times.

Discord is a popular social media platform for online game players. It hosts real-time voice, video and text chats. Members of one such forum reportedly discussed the war in Ukraine and “an unidentified person shared documents they claimed were classified, according to a chat member,” AP reports.

The person who claimed to be a member of the forum also explained to the news agency that another person, identified online only as “Lucca”, had shared the documents in another Discord chat. From there, they seem to have aired until the media took over.

“The documents appear to have been printed and folded before being photographed”, specifies the Washington Post. “Some objects in the background of the photos, such as a hunting scope, suggest they were photographed in the same location.”

But the origin of these leaks is still questionable.

  • How reliable are they?

US authorities decline to comment on the authenticity or content of classified documents that have been shared on social media. But even without this official confirmation, formal clues seem to attest to the authenticity of several documents consulted and analyzed by American media.

Several documents bear, in fact, markings used for classified documents, according to the Washington Post. Some documents are stamped “Noforn” for “not for release to foreign nationals”, which means that they cannot be released to foreign nationals.

Others are meant to be shared with Washington’s allies, including members of the “Five Eyes” alliance – Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in addition to the United States. Finally, some documents are marked “top secret”, the highest level of American security classification.

Although “many” of these classified writings “do not appear to have been altered”, “some of the widely circulated initial documents appear to have been doctored to show a more positive outlook for Russia in Ukraine”, explains the Washington Post.

For example, one of the slides made public indicates, for example, that 16,000 to 17,500 Russian soldiers have been killed since the start of the war in Ukraine. The Pentagon and other analysts, meanwhile, estimate that Russia suffered far more casualties – nearly 200,000 dead and wounded.

Along the same lines, a spokesman for the British Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday evening on Twitter that “the leak of what is presented as classified American information, which has received wide coverage, (had) demonstrated a serious level of inaccuracy”. And to add “Readers should be careful before relying on claims that have the potential to spread misinformation.”

  • Ukraine, Egypt, South Korea… revelations and denials

Among the many revelations contained in these documents, several relate to the war in Ukraine.

A “top secret” document dating from early February, and analyzed by the Washington Post, provides a “gloomy assessment” of the difficulties encountered by Kiev before launching its spring counter-offensive to retake areas under Russian control. The American newspaper explains that this document warns of significant “gaps in force generation and maintenance” and the likelihood that such an operation will only result in “modest territorial gains” – which would be “well below” Ukraine’s initial objectives.

Another “top secret” document dated February 17 explains, meanwhile, that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi “ordered his subordinates to secretly prepare to dispatch up to 40 000 rockets to Russia” as part of the war in Ukraine. Asked by the Washington Post about this, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that Egypt remained “not involved in this crisis and was committed to maintaining an equal distance with both parties”. A representative of the US government said, for his part, on condition of anonymity “We are not aware of the execution of this plan”.

Other leaks seem to indicate that the United States is undertaking espionage work on several allied countries. In South Korea, for example, the national security council feared that the United States would transfer certain ammunition ordered from Seoul to Kiev, according to a document seen by AFP addressing a March 1 exchange between two South Korean officials. . This would have gone against South Korea’s desire to refrain from supplying lethal equipment to Ukraine.

This revelation gave rise to criticism : the South Korean opposition demanded on Wednesday April 12 the opening of an investigation, while the services of President Yoon Suk-yeol retorted that the accusations of wiretapping were “absurd lies”.

Finally, another document – ​​undated – seen by AFP claims that leaders of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, allegedly encouraged both agency officials and ordinary citizens to protest against the controversial reform of the judicial system in Israel. The Mossad and other senior Israeli officials have denied this information.

“Given the large number of documents that have been leaked, it is likely that the extent of their revelations has not yet been released,” concludes the Washington Post.

With AP and AFP

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