In his novel The Prisoner of Heaven, Spanish novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón, wrote: “A good liar knows that the most efficient lie is always a truth that has had a key piece removed from it.”

The more I read about the contents of the supposed leaked Pentagon papers, the more I feel that Carlos could have been referring to them – and I’m not the only one. This could be a huge exercise in disinformation. But, if it is, then the $64,000-question is: Who did it and who would benefit from it?

Where did the leaks appear?

It now appears that the initial batch of US documents appeared in mid-January on a server hosted by the Discord chat platform: Thug Shaker Central. They were then further circulated to other Discord servers, including one called Minecraft Earth Map where, around March 4, two gamers were having an argument about the war in Ukraine in which one of the gamers tried to settle the quarrel saying: “Here, have some leaked documents.”

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These then circulated on other public social networks for about a month. Then in early April two versions of one of the documents, which referred to casualty figures in Bakhmut, were identified. One version had obviously been altered to suggest Russian casualties were much lower than those of Ukraine.

The other, which had figures that more closely aligned with Western assessments, appeared on 4chan, the anonymous imageboard website that was credited as the birthplace of the “Alt-right” movement. 4chan has about 20 million visitors a month and some 900,000 new posts per day, so it is no wonder that documents’ existence was soon picked up by the media, with an article first appearing in the New York Times on April 6.

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CIA Director William Burns has reportedly painted a dire picture of the situation on the battlefield in Ukraine and emphasized the global consequences of inaction.

It was shortly after this that the floodgates opened and more documents began to appear. But why were they revealed on a gaming platform? That probably says much about the nature of the users of these sites, with at least a dozen cases of classified information appearing on gaming sites – often, as in this current case, to settle disagreements about real life weapon capabilities against the data supplied in the game.

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Intelligence agencies have been concerned about gaming communities as “target-rich communications networks” for some time. Indeed, one of the documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that the CIA had deployed agents to participate in and monitor players using Microsoft’s Xbox Live platform.

So, if intelligence agencies are monitoring these gaming sites, maybe one of them has used this to disseminate its own “leaks” for the purposes of disinformation.

Is the leaked information genuine?

For me, the obvious first question is: How genuine is the information contained in them? The media’s initial impulse has been to jump on them as 100 percent the real thing, but the reactions of the intelligence communities has not been so forthright. In analyzing what has been said, I urge you to keep Ruiz Zafón’s dictum firmly in mind.

As evidence of documents’ authenticity, the media has pointed to the reactions of Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin, the US secretaries of state and defense respectively, to initiate a Pentagon investigation, as well as appeals by the White House to Twitter and Telegram to take down the posts.

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But a number of officials in the UK’s Ministry of Defence warned that the documents “demonstrated a serious level of inaccuracy.”

Serhiy Rakhmanin, a member of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security, told Radio Svoboda that the “leak” includes both true and falsified data, which could serve as part of a disinformation campaign.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Zelensky went further, branding intelligence assessments in the documents as being “related exclusively to the information and operational game that the Russians started in order to introduce confusion, seize the initiative and discredit the very idea of [our counter]offensive.”

Ukrainian Minister for Defense Oleksiy Reznikov, speaking in Madrid said that the documents contained a mixture of outdated true and false information and were a disinformation operation aimed at benefiting Russia and its allies.

On the other side, the Zaporizhzhia-based chairman of the so-called “We Are Together With Russia Movement,” Vladimir Rogov, suggested that this was a US disinformation exercise, designed to sow further confusion about the real state of the conflict. “This is a classical information special operation,” he told Russian state news on Friday, April 7.

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But later leaked documents not only refer to the war in Ukraine but infer that the US is eavesdropping on its allies and interfering in other nations, including Israel, Serbia, South Korea and Egypt, among others.

Spokespersons for these affected countries, while intimating that there may be kernels of truth in the various documents, also say that much of the information is either untrue or inaccurate.  

So, who leaked the documents?

The media, in the round, have assumed they were leaked by some disgruntled Pentagon employee or “secret agent” but can’t explain why “considerable amounts of the documents were fabricated,” as a spokesperson for the South Korean government said. Perhaps the leaker is just a mischief maker, who is not totally disloyal, so has altered the “actionable” parts of the intelligence he has put out. In any case he will have managed to undermine the trust in the US by its allies, in general, and Ukraine in particular – unless they have already been briefed otherwise.

The Washington Post reported on April 12 that the leaker, who calls himself “OG,” was a young man working on an unidentified “military base” who had shared the classified information in an attempt to find companionship. If true, it doesn’t say much for the security regime at his place of work.

Perhaps this is, in fact, all a sophisticated deliberate disinformation campaign – but initiated by whom and why?

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If the US is responsible, it would indeed sow confusion in Russia as to the true intent and preparedness of Ukraine to launch its anticipated counteroffensive. In addition, some of the documents suggest that US intelligence appears to have penetrated nearly every Russian military body including the General Staff, the Defense Ministry and the GRU military intelligence agency, as well as the private mercenary group Wagner, which would make President Vladimir Putin and his generals nervous.

If the US wanted to give the fabricated elements of the “leak” more credence, then the Pentagon would need to appear to start an investigation. But wouldn’t some of the “leaks” infuriate their allies? Not if they had briefed and included them in the ruse in the first place.

What about Russia, could they have done it? Perhaps. Reuters noted that the layout of the documents seem to all have similar formats that, in the age of “Photoshop,” could have been leaked and altered by Russia to spread misinformation and distrust among other US allies, such as France and Israel, as well as China and “enemy” countries like Iran.

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At the end of the day, we ordinary mortals will probably never know the truth. Maybe I’ve just read too many spy novels, but it seems to me more than just a coincidence that these leaks have appeared right when, all observers agree, the war in Ukraine has reached a critical juncture.

 The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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Comments ( 1)

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I support
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Sadly it's a 21 year old American kid who wanted to impress people. Fucking Pathetic what where you thinking I mean people's lives are at stake and how did you think this was a good idea.
Mom and Dad plus uncle Sam are not happy.

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