The U.S. Justice Dept. said on Friday, April 7 that it had opened an investigation into the leak of classified Pentagon documents appearing to detail, among other things, Ukraine’s combat capabilities, its potential vulnerabilities and NATO’s broad efforts to help repel Russia’s invasion.
Last week, photos of classified presentations that appear to have been printed out and folded at some point began making the rounds among various social media platforms. The documents seem to be dated from late February to March of this year.
Since the New York Times and Washington Post exposed the leaks, the international press has been in a feeding frenzy about their authenticity, whether or not they’ve been doctored, who the source of the leak may have been, and their ultimate ramifications.
Are the documents authentic?
Most experts concur that they are indeed authentic, although some of the casualty statistics appear to have been manipulated to make it seem as if the Russians have lost fewer soldiers than the actual count.
Stefan Korshak, senior defense correspondent at Kyiv Post, gave an extensive assessment of the documents in his milblog, saying, “My reaction is that if they are faked then they are some of the best fakes I’ve seen in a while and dramatically well above the normal standard of Russian faked information.”
If the highly classified Pentagon documents are indeed authentic, then they offer a tantalizing glimpse into how the U.S. spies on allies and foes alike. Not surprisingly, this will rattle U.S. officials, who fear the revelations could jeopardize sensitive sources and compromise important foreign relationships.
Where did they come from?
According to the Washington Post, photographs of at least several dozen pages of highly classified documents, which looked to have been printed and then folded together into a packet, were shared on Feb. 28 and March 2 on Discord, a chat platform popular with gamers. The documents were shared by a user to a server called “Wow Mao.”
The original source of the leak remains unclear. The Washington Post identified the user who shared the images in February and March by looking at previous social media posts, then tracked the user down to a base in southern California. A Twitter account using the same handle and avatar image as the Discord account wrote on Friday they had “found some info from a now banned server and passed it on.”
The Washington Post’s reporters on April 7 even went to the door at a house registered to the Discord user’s father. A man answered and declined to comment.
About three miles away, at a townhouse registered to the user’s mother, a knock at the door went unanswered. The parents did not respond to the Washington Post’s calls or messages.
What was in the documents?
A lot. Some of them appear to be detailed battlefield assessments prepared over the winter for senior Pentagon leaders.
Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) strength, how the Ukrainians are organized, battlefield losses, and the presence of nearly 100 NATO special forces advisors, are all included in the documents.
From the leaked assessments, the New York Times reported that at the height of the ongoing battle for Bakhmut in late February, Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s director of military intelligence, even offered to deploy elite units under his command for two weeks to push back Russian troops threatening the supply road. It cited Gen. Budanov as describing Ukraine’s position at the time as “catastrophic.”
Since then the road has been stabilized by most accounts, but the Russians have switched tactics and are pushing directly into central Bakhmut.
What are some of the takeaways regarding Ukraine?
Korshak assesses that assuming the data is accurate, we can now say with certainty several things that had previously been speculation:
1. The Russians are just as concerned about an attack from Kherson towards Crimea by the shortest route, across the Dnipro River…
2. The Russians are also quite concerned that the Ukrainians could try and cross the river at Nova Kakhovka/Enerhodar.
3. The Russians expect a big battle, perhaps the biggest battle, to take place around Tokmak on the Zaporizhzhia-Melitopol road.
4. The Russians are betting the Ukrainians will not attempt to cross the Dnipro between Kherson and Nova Kakhovka, and further, they are not overly concerned about potential AFU seaborne moves west of Kherson to the Kinburn Spit.
5. That the AFU has artillery dominance in this sector is very well documented, so Gen. Zaluzhny and his staff have to at least be thinking about getting force to the left bank of the Dnipro in that area.
How bad are the leaks, and for whom?
Almost everyone comes out looking bad – especially the U.S. for allowing such a security breach (unless, of course, it was intentional disinformation, which would be another entire story for the media’s feeding frenzy).
The Ukrainians come across as more lackadaisical than they prefer to appear.
Even some NATO allies, like the Turks, who were reported to have been talking to Wagner about and arms deals, are raising eyebrows.
What’s for sure, the press (Kyiv Post included) will continue to make hay off what are essentially images drifting through cyberspace.
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Maybe the Russian idiots will believe them. Most likely all are total fake.
Well who knows if this is spy craft or one big fuck up. Only time will tell anyway the war goes on. Glory to the ukraine.
In my opinion this seems to be connected with someone on the extreme right wing of the Republican Party. It is bad for the USA, for President Biden and for Ukraine. Any information collected by the Russians would never had been made public, helping Russia because allies wouldn´t know they had that information. It does not look like a disinformation leak to deceive Russia, either. A supporter of Mr. Trump is my bet, and I think I have the winning bet.