When top secrets get to social media, there is absolutely no way they could remain as secrets. That is the case with the United States at the moment after a batch of top secret documents were shared on social media and are now available to the public and even enemies of the U.S. The documents first appeared on Discord, a social media platform, sometime in March and soon spread to other platforms, including Twitter.
Regarding the scale of the leak, analysts believe more than a hundred documents may have been leaked, including documents that could be hugely damaging to the US. The extent of the damage could extend to Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as they also share intelligence with the United States.
“We are aware of the reports of social media posts, and the Department is reviewing the matter,” Sabrina Singh, the spokesperson of the Pentagon, said on Friday.
Republican Rep Mike Gallagher described the leak as “a massive counterintelligence problem” which President Joe Biden must brief lawmakers on as Congress returns next week.
“It seems like a massive counterintelligence problem, the fact that this trove of documents was leaked. We are talking about things that could damage our national security and C.I.A. efforts in Europe and around the world,” Gallagher said.
What is inside the leaked documents?
The contents of the leaked documents, if true, are information that could be damaging to the United States and could affect Ukraine’s chances in the ongoing war. They contained details about both the strengths and weaknesses of the Ukrainian and Russian militaries.
Regarding Russia, the US seems to have penetrated its military enough to know its next line of action. The documents contained real-time warnings to American intelligence agencies on when and where the Russians will strike next. Such information that is available to the US helps it notify Ukraine of Moscow’s plans so it could defend itself.
The leak also portrayed the Russian military as one that is struggling to keep up with the war in Ukraine amid shortages of weapons.
What about Ukraine? The US intelligence report seems to explain how the Ukrainian military is also lacking in air defence munitions and how the Russian troops are recording some gains in the Bakhmut. However, there were indications in the report that the US could be spying on top military commanders and political leaders in Ukraine. The possible reason for that is that the US would want to get a clear picture of Ukraine’s fighting strategies, but it is not so easy to do so directly from the authorities.
The death toll of the war
One piece of information missing since the war in Ukraine started is the actual death toll. However, the leaked documents have provided some hints about how many people that have died in the war. One of the papers estimated Russia’s death toll to be about 189,500 to 223,000 and 43,000 of them were killed in action. Those figures sound familiar, as the United States previously estimated the death toll at about 200,000.
On the side of Ukraine, the leaked documents stated that as of February, about 124,500 to 131,000 casualties have been recorded. Approximately 17,500 of them were killed in action. The Americans had previously estimated the Ukrainian death toll at about 100,000, which means it might have underreported the Ukrainian casualties.
Russia’s next moves
As the weather gets warmer, there are talks that Ukraine and Russia are strategising on how to make the best use of the time. What then is Russia planning? The United States seems to know so much about the plans. One of the documents marked top secret describes how the Russian military is planning to counter the tanks supplied to Ukraine by NATO countries. It says one of such plans is to create “fire zones” and train soldiers on the weaknesses of the various tanks.
The US is spying on allies
If the United States is spying on China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran, these countries would not be surprised. However, allies of the United States might be surprised if they find out they are being spied on.
South Korea, one of the United States’s closest allies, could be a victim if the details of the leaked documents are correct. One of the pages posted online describes how the United States is aware of the internal debates in South Korea about whether to provide artillery shells to the U.S. for use in Ukraine. Since such a provision violated South Korea’s policy of providing lethal aid, President Biden was meant to call South Korea’s president to pressure him into delivering the fighting equipment.
But the big question is not how the United States was trying to convince a friend into changing his mind. It was how Washington got to know about South Korea’s internal debate. According to another section of the leaked documents, American spy agencies got to know about what is happening in South Korea from “a signals intelligence report,” a phrase that indicated that the information was gotten through intercepted electronic communications.
There were also sections of the leaks that discussed how the US could be spying on Israel and even Ukraine amid the war with Russia.
How true are the contents of the documents?
Although the authenticity of all the documents has not been confirmed, some sections of them are nothing but the truth. John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state, told NBC News that some of the documents could contain truth in them but warned that they should be treated with caution.
“There are some indications that … there are some aspects of the document that have some authenticity to them, but there are also indications that this may be a Russian disinformation campaign, which they’re very good at,” Sullivan said.
However, the Ukrainian government has done all it could to portray the information contained in the documents as false, as Russia would not speedily throw away its access to America’s secret information by publishing them.
“If you have a working channel for receiving intelligence from the Pentagon, you will not destroy it just for a day of newsworthy headlines. If you have information about the level of support and military plans of the enemy, you will pretend that you do not have it,” Podolyak wrote on Telegram.
“If you try to pretend you know something, then you don’t know anything. This is a bluff, dust in the eyes,” Podolyak continued. “As for the real counteroffensive plans, the Russian troops will certainly be the first to get acquainted with them. I would assume that will happen very soon.”
The safest conclusion at the moment is that parts of the leaked documents are genuine, but it would be very difficult to conclude that they were doctored documents.
How the leaks could affect the United States
The United States has been careful about speaking about the contents of the documents. However, the arrival of such information on social media might be damaging to the United States in several ways.
Russia could cut off the information source
How does the United States get access to so much information about Russia? That is the question Moscow would be seeking to answer for now. Once the answer is gotten, one can be certain that the access would be blocked, leaving the United States with lesser information about its archrival.
Cutting off the supply of such information would also affect the chances of Ukraine in the war, as there would also be insufficient information available to it from the United States.
Can allies still trust the United States?
The leaked information is more than just information of the United States. Since the US share information with other allies and vice versa, these allies might wonder about the safety of the information they are giving out, making them reluctant to do so.
Apart from that, the revelation that the United States is spying on even its allies seems worrisome. That could affect how much trust these nations would have while dealing with the superpower.
Finding the source of the leak
Already, the Pentagon has launched an investigation into the possible source of the leaked information. A senior U.S. official told New York Times that it would be difficult to track down the source because of the number of senior military officials that have access to such documents. He said they should be hundreds if not thousands of them.