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What we know about the leaked US intelligence documents

On Friday, April 7, some confidential documents from the United States Department of Defense were published on a number of online platforms, including Twitter, Telegram, and 4chan.


Some of the documents were marked “Top Secret” and contained highly confidential information that only US government officials with the highest levels of security clearance could have access to.


According to the New York Times, which first dealt with the story, the documents would have been obtained and published following a leak and not a hack.



An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, June 15, 2005. (REUTERS/Jason Reed JIR/CN)


The documents were not scanned but photographed. Various objects appear in some of the photographs, including a hunter's scope box and some Gorilla Glue. Therefore, it appears that the documents were photographed in the same location.


The leak concerns at least a hundred documents covering some issues of international importance, such as the state of the conflict in Ukraine. The documents include some maps of important hotspots in Ukraine, among which Kharkiv and Bakhmut, the city in the east of Ukraine that has been at the center of a very bloody battle for months; a timetable of Western munitions shipments to Ukraine; a document that contains four "wild card" scenarios regarding potential trajectories the conflict might take.


The most important revelation probably concerns the state of Ukraine's air defense systems. According to the documents, the Ukrainian defenses could be completely exhausted by May 23, leaving the territory completely defenseless from a possible Russian offensive.


Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented on the leak with some caution, although the Pentagon has confirmed the authenticity of some of the leaked documents. If the information contained in the leak were verified, the Russian military would have a window to strike strategic targets in Ukraine before the new defenses provided by NATO countries arrive. However, if the documents were manipulated or did not accurately assess the state of the Ukrainian defenses, the losses of the Russian air force could be very large.


The adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Mykhailo Podolyak, said he believed Russia was directly responsible for the leak. According to Podolyak, who was interviewed by CNN, the documents are "a bluff, dust in your eyes."


According to security analysts who reviewed the documents, the growing trove also includes sensitive briefing material on China, Canada, Israel, and South Korea, in addition to the Indo-Pacific military theater and the Middle East.


According to an investigation by the investigative newspaper Bellingcat, the documents appeared for the first time on the Telegram instant messaging app on April 5, on the "Donbass Devushka" channel. In a message circulated on "Donbass Devushka" 5 photos of the documents were published and one of them showed the number of soldiers killed in action on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine.



Bellingcat was able to verify that the photo posted on "Donbass Devushka" was manipulated. The Ukrainian soldiers killed in action had been overestimated, and vice versa for the Russian ones.



A post on the Donbas Devushka channel detailing the documents. (Bellingcat)


The original version had been circulating on the 4chan imageboard for a couple of hours earlier, in a thread on the Politically Incorrect board.


However, the Bellingcat investigation made it possible to reconstruct that the photos of the documents had already been circulating since March on another online platform very popular among gamers: Discord.


In  the beginning of March, a part of these same documents had been published on a Discord channel that brings together fans of the Minecraft video game. On March 4, during a discussion about Minecraft maps and warfare, a user posted ten confidential documents. Subsequently, on Twitter, he wrote that he had found them on another Discord channel called "WowMao" dedicated to a Filipino YouTuber of the same name.



Speaking with some Discord users who preferred to remain anonymous, Bellingcat learned of another channel called "Thug Shaker Central" - now deleted - on which confidential documents had been circulating possibly as early as January. Bellingcat was unable to verify the information because users provided screenshots of posts on that channel as the only proof. According to users Bellingcat spoke to, the documents that ended up on "WowMao" and then on other platforms from "Thug Shaker Central" are just "the tip of the iceberg."



Image content pixelated by Bellingcat


The documents already published may be only part of a larger leak of information within the US Department of Defense.


According to POLITICO who heard from some DoD officials who have chosen to remain anonymous, this leak could be more harmful than the one that occurred by Edward Snowden about 10 years ago.


The documents are particularly recent and concern extremely relevant information.



It is not yet clear why the documents were disclosed and the person responsible for the leak has not been identified.


Edited by: Ritaja Kar

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