Sensitive intelligence documents from the Pentagon, originally leaked on the online platform Discord in early April, are the largest public breach of classified U.S. intelligence since WikiLeaks between 2006 and 2021, according to Politico.
The leaked documents mostly contain information on the Russia-Ukraine conflict, but also contain documents that show the U.S. has been collecting information on countries such as South Korea, and Israel. They also reveal key national security details about the Middle East and China, such as estimations of Taiwanese military capabilities in the face of an invasion from China.
Jack Teixeira, 21, the suspect behind these leaks, was charged with unauthorized transmission of defense information and unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents on April 14. The U.S. Airman will face up to 10 years in prison for the first charge, and up to five years in prison for the second, writes BBC News. According to BBC, Mr. Teixeira’s former position was cyber defense operations journeyman which provided him with “top secret” security clearance from 2021 onward.
Mr. Teixeira was an administrator of a discord server in which members discussed geopolitics and wars. He initially began posting the leaks in the form of paragraphs of text sometime in December and then began posting photographs of documents in January. According to BBC, it was not until the documents were posted outside of the chat room that the Pentagon became aware of the leaks and began searching for the source.
These leaks show how the U.S. spies on both its allies and adversaries alike. Many U.S. officials fear these leaks will damage relations with important foreign allies and jeopardize sensitive sources, writes CNN. The leaks have the potential to harm Ukraine’s war effort by revealing which Russian agencies the U.S. has the most information about and provides an opportunity for Russia to cut off the flow of information. According to The New York Times, the documents show that the United States’ understanding of Russia’s military planning and operations remains extensive, and the U.S. ability to forewarn allies about Russia’s plans could be damaged by these leaks.
The leaks also revealed that the U.S. spies on key allies such as Israel and South Korea. According to Reuters, one Central Intelligence Agency document contained information stating that Israel’s intelligence service, the Mossad, was encouraging protests against the new government. The Israeli government responded to this leak calling the claims, “mendacious and without any foundation whatsoever,” writes The New York Times
South Korea has also labeled documents containing details of an internal discussion on U.S. pressure to supply weapons to Ukraine, which if true would point to U.S. spying on South Korea, as “utterly false” and that any attempts to shake its alliance with the U.S. is an act “compromising national interest,” reports Reuters. The document shows that South Korea agreed to sell artillery shells to the U.S. to replenish its stockpiles, but several top South Korean officials expressed concerns that the shells may end up in Ukraine. This would violate a law that states South Korea cannot supply weapons to countries engaged in conflict.
While addressing the validity of the documents, on April 11, the Pentagon said at least some of the documents “appear to contain sensitive and highly classified material” but have avoided blanket statements around the categorization of the documents. Al Jazeera reports that the defense department has repeatedly emphasized that at least some of the documents have been altered.
While the identity of which documents may have been altered has remained a secret, one of the documents leaked shows estimates of Russian military personnel deaths in Ukraine are significantly lower than the numbers officially confirmed by the U.S., while the number of Ukrainian deaths is much greater than the official figures. According to Politico, the documents originally released in March do not show signs of being altered but some of the later documents, like the one mentioned above, show signs of modification.
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