5 Things You Need To Know About Leaked Intel Documents Rocking Pentagon, Allies Amid Ongoing Ukraine Conflict

Zinger Key Points
  • A criminal investigation has been launched to find out the source of the leaks.
  • The documents show the U.S. spying on its own allies, as well as Russia.

Several batches of leaked U.S. intelligence documents have become a major cause for concern for the Pentagon and U.S. allies, as the war in Ukraine rages on.

The leak of approximately 100 documents has propelled a special investigation by the Department of Justice

The White House's National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said on Monday afternoon that "there is no excuse for these documents to be in the public domain" and both the DOJ and the Defense Department are leading an inter-agency effort to "get to the bottom of this."

1. The documents make both Russia and Ukraine look weak.

The leaked documents disclose a Ukrainian air defense system that is in urgent need for foreign assistance in order to maintain its capabilities. While that piece of information would appear to justify an effort by Russia to disclose the vulnerabilities of Ukraine’s defensive capabilities and reduce its morale, other leaked information also put Russia on the spot.

The classified materials disclose the Pentagon’s intel on Russia's movements and future plans in Ukraine. The high level of infiltration of U.S. intelligence into Russia’s military operations would theoretically make pro-Russia actors less likely to want the material to be published.

2. It's still not clear who leaked the documents.

While the classified documents were replicated quickly on Twitter and Telegram in recent days, the original leaks reportedly occurred as early as January 2023, with following batches from early March.

Bellingcat, a site described as an independent investigative collective of researchers, investigators and citizen journalists, tried to trace the documents to their original source, but the identity of the original leaker remains unknown.

The first batch of the leak appears to have occurred on a Discord server called "Thug Shaker Central," which has since been erased, taking down with it all evidence of the initial leak. Discord is a messaging platform on which users exchange information, files and conversations on thematic groups called servers.

Another batch of 30 documents appeared on a separate discord server called "WowMao" in early March, before eventually making their way into the anonymous image board site 4chan, and later into Telegram, a popular messaging app that hosts social-media type group chats.

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3. The documents are real, but some have been altered.

Pentagon officials have acknowledged that the leaked files are real documents from the Defense Department, according to the New York Times. However, several versions of the documents have come to light, showing signs of alterations.

A key piece of information that has been tampered with focuses on the number of casualties suffered by both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries since the start of the war.

U.S. estimates put the number of killed or wounded Russian soldiers at 189,500 and 223,000, and between 124,500 and 131,000 for Ukraine. 

Yet a pro-Russian Telegram group posted the number of Ukrainians “killed in action” at between 16,000 to 17,500 for Russia and 61,000 to 71,500 for Ukraine, as per the BBC.

The alteration has been referred to as a move to affect the other side's morale, by both Ukrainian officials and pro-Russia influencers, leading to more confusion over who would benefit from the leak and the spread of misinformation about war casualties.

4. The documents show the U.S. spying on allies like Israel, South Korea and France.

The leaks include information about the U.S. spying on South Korea, by using signal intelligence. They report top aides to the Korean president showing concerns that artillery shells being sold to the U.S. by Korea would then be diverted into Ukraine, without Korea's authorization.

Another document analyzes the possibility of Israel, another U.S. ally, providing lethal aid to Ukraine, on top of its humanitarian and strategic assistance. Another report puts the Mossad —Israel's intelligence agency— behind efforts to encourage civilians to take part in recent anti-government demonstrations. The office of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied the claim, according to The Guardian.

Another document says there are French soldiers fighting in Ukraine. The claim was denied by the French defense ministry, saying the information source is not clear, and it would not "comment on documents whose source is uncertain."

5. Defense stocks were not largely affected by the leaks.

Defense ETFs showed minor movement to the green side on Monday.

  • The iShares U.S. Aerospace & Defense ETF ITA was up 0.8% on Monday at the time of this writing.
  • The SPDR S&P Aerospace & Defense ETF XAR was up 1.2% .
  • Invesco Aerospace & Defense ETF PPA was up 0.9%

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