Source: The Guardian
A large cache of what appear to be classified Pentagon documents circulating on social media channels is becoming a growing source of anxiety for US intelligence agencies, as numerous allies have been forced into denials over the purported leaks.
Half a dozen photographs of printed classified documents, mostly pertaining to the state of the Ukraine war as of the beginning of March, started to be shared on Russian Telegram channels in the middle of last week, even though research by open-source intelligence organization Bellingcat suggests they made the rounds on niche gaming image boards several weeks earlier.
On Friday, a further batch of more than 100 Pentagon documents was being shared on Twitter, seemingly revealing confidential information that US spy agencies had obtained, not just about Russia and its war of aggression against Kyiv, but also about supposed allies such as Israel and South Korea.
While at least some of the images from the first leak appeared crudely doctored, the authenticity of the latest batch has not been immediately questioned. The New York Times described the leak as “a nightmare for the Five Eyes” – the intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.
On Sunday, the office of Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, issued a statement in which it firmly rejected a claim made in one of the leaked documents: that the Israeli foreign intelligence agency had encouraged its staff and Israeli citizens to participate in March’s wave of anti-government protests across the country.
“The Mossad and its serving senior personnel have not engaged in the issue of the demonstrations at all and are dedicated to the value of service to the state that has guided the Mossad since its founding,” the statement read.
The leaked document labeled top secret said that in February, senior Mossad officials “advocated for Mossad officials and Israeli citizens to protest the new Israeli government’s proposed judicial reforms, including several explicit calls to action that decried the Israeli government, according to signals intelligence”.
While Mossad’s purpose is not defined by law, the spy agency is not meant to wade into domestic political matters.
Government officials in South Korea, meanwhile, said on Sunday they were aware that another leaked document suggested that US intelligence had spied on its allies in Seoul, and was planning to “have necessary consultations with the US side” over issues raised by the leak.
At least two of the leaked Pentagon documents, based at least in part on intercepted foreign intelligence communications, describe South Korean concern over US pressure to aid Ukraine in its defensive effort against Russia, with the former foreign minister Yi Mun-hui expressing concern that artillery shells requested by Washington for its own use could ultimately end up in Kyiv’s hands.
South Korea’s longstanding official policy is to not provide lethal weapons to countries at war. The South Korean presidential official, speaking to reporters, declined to respond further to questions about US spying or to confirm any details from the leaked documents.
While potentially embarrassing for the Pentagon, the leaked documents also paint a flattering portrait of the US’s ability to penetrate Russian military planning, including the internal plans of the notorious Wagner mercenary group.
The leaked documents show the mercenary outfit’s ambition to operate in African states as well as Haiti, and that it had hatched plans to source arms covertly from Nato member Turkey.
In early February, Wagner personnel “met with Turkish contacts to purchase weapons and equipment from Turkey”, one of the reports states, suggesting that Mali could act as a proxy buyer. Wagner is known to have set up a sizeable operation in the West African state, and one of the leaked documents claims the mercenary group has 1,645 fighters in the country.
On Saturday evening, France’s defense ministry denied that there were French soldiers in Ukraine, as allegedly revealed in one of the leaked documents that circulated on social media in the middle of last week.
“There are no French forces engaged in operation in Ukraine,” said a spokesperson for the minister of the armed forces, Sébastien Lecornu. “The documents cited do not come from the French armies. We do not comment on documents whose source is uncertain.”
The first batch of leaked Pentagon documents contained charts and details about anticipated weapons deliveries, battalion strengths and losses on the battlefield.
One slide suggested that a small contingent of less than 100 special operations personnel from Nato members France, America, Britain and Latvia were active in Ukraine.
Some of the circulated documents have been obviously digitally altered to understate US estimates of Russian troops killed and Russian vehicles and fighter jets destroyed. Kyiv has said the leaked files contain “fictitious information”.
The US Department of Justice said it has opened an investigation into the apparent leaks, but declined to comment further.