Washington, you have a problem. News broke late today that a new batch of classified documents have hit the internet and the Brandon Administration is scrambling to put a band aid on a sucking chest wound. (Note, the image above was from the previous release and is all over Twitter and Telegram.)
A new batch of classified documents that appear to detail American national security secrets from Ukraine to the Middle East to China surfaced on social media sites on Friday, alarming the Pentagon and adding turmoil to a situation that seemed to have caught the Brandon administration off guard.
The scale of the leak — analysts say more than 100 documents may have been obtained — along with the sensitivity of the documents themselves, could be hugely damaging, officials said. A senior intelligence officials called the leak “a nightmare for the Five Eyes,” in a reference to the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the so-called Five Eyes nations that broadly share intelligence.
The latest documents were found on Twitter and other sites on Friday, a day after senior Brandon administration officials said they were investigating a potential leak of classified Ukrainian war plans, include an assessment of Ukraine’s air defense capabilities.
One slide, dated Feb. 23, is labeled “Secret/NoForn,” meaning it was not meant to be shared with foreign countries.Mick Mulroy, a former senior Pentagon official, said the leak of the classified documents represents “a significant breach in security” that could hinder Ukrainian military planning. “As many of these were pictures of documents, it appears that it was a deliberate leak done by someone that wished to damage the Ukraine, U.S., and NATO efforts,” he said.
Let me state up front what I believe — these documents are authentic and the leak probably did not originate from the NATO countries. Why? Because several are marked “NOFORN”, which means those documents with that marking are for U.S. eyes only. In other words, not to be shared with foreigners, such as the UK, France, Germany and, especially, Ukraine. Here is one example of a NOFORN document:
Look at the section in the lower left hand quadrant. The date of this document is 1 March 2023. It provides a list of the allied countries that are providing training to Ukrainian forces on a variety of weapons systems and other military skills. I was surprised to learn that Germany is doing the bulk of the training, according to this document.
Some have speculated that this is a deliberate leak by the U.S. to “confuse” the Russians. Sorry kids, that is nonsense. The information revealed in these documents is not going to be accepted at face value by Russian intelligence analysts. They will contrast and compare with their own robust stores of intelligence in order to corroborate or flag as disinformation. I am confident that the Russian General Staff is producing briefing reports like this for its field generals. The Russians are not sitting passively waiting for some drips and drabs of U.S. intelligence.
Others believe that Russian intelligence leaked this information to sow distrust in allied ranks. I discount that explanation as well but that does not mean it is a viable possibility. If Russia did this then it is risking exposing that it has an asset or assets in the U.S. ranks. Producing such information would bring heat down on suspected perpetrators and could expose U.S. military personnel spying for Russia. What is the incentive for Russia to raise a warning flag to attract that kind of attention from the United States?
One possible motive, get U.S. counterintelligence personnel to chase their tails and conduct investigations that will disrupt U.S. military planning and support to Ukraine. Possible, but turn this around. If the United States or one of the NATO countries had assets inside the Russian General Staff, would you counsel the West to release SECRET and TOP SECRET Russian military intelligence on social media in order to try to create chaos on their side? Or, would you keep that info close hold and know that you were reading the Russian playbook and could potentially counter their moves without exposing your assets? What is good for the goose is good for the gander.
I initially was inclined to believe that this leak may have originated with one of the NATO partners. But then I saw that there are TOP SECRET and NOFORN documents. That makes it extremely unlikely that any of the NATO partners had access to this trove of documents.
The key issue is who had access? The evidence points at someone in the U.S. military or intelligence community. It is important to understand that SECRET documents are not posted on TOP SECRET systems. TS material is on a separate platform. The most likely scenario (but not the only one) is that a person or persons printed these documents in one of the U.S. classified facilities and removed them surreptitiously. What remains to be determined is whether the guilty party or parties are spying for the Russians or are acting on their own volition. Your guess is as good as mine.
The folks in Moscow are not terribly excited about this. Maybe they are great actors or maybe they realize that the publication of this material does not change what the Russian military needs to do on the battlefield.
Moscow is already aware that the US and NATO are involved in the Ukraine conflict, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman told CNN on Friday. Dmitry Peskov was responding to a question about American military documents that had appeared online.
“We don’t have the slightest doubt about direct or indirect involvement of the US and NATO in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” the spokesman explained.
“This level of involvement is rising gradually,” he added. “We keep our eye on this process. Well, of course, it makes the whole story more complicated, but it cannot influence the final outcome of the special operation.”
I am struck by the fact that none of the documents released that I have seen (and I have only seen less than 5% of the material) provide any meaningful insight about what the United States and NATO understand about Russian capabilities. The plans and activities described in these documents appear to ignore the kind of robust military capabilities that Russia can bring to bear to counter the U.S./NATO plans for Ukraine.
Remember last October? The Ukrainians tried to cross the Dnieper River and attack the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The 600 man force was stopped by the Russians, with at least 90 KIA, according to a report published today in the UK Times:
The effect of this leak is simple — it is going to create chaos in the U.S. task force assigned the mission to support the war in Ukraine. Finding and punishing those responsible will not alter the detrimental effect on the U.S. effort. I suspect the Russians are grabbing bags of popcorn to enjoy the ensuing show.