The US government is investigating a major so-called leak of classified Pentagon documents that have appeared online, revealing sensitive information about US intelligence operations and assessments of the war in Ukraine.
The documents, some of which are marked top secret, include details about how the US spies on friends and foes, such as South Korea, Israel and Russia, as well as intelligence on the casualties and equipment needs of Ukraine in its conflict with Russian-backed separatists.
The documents were first posted on obscure internet sites, such as a Minecraft channel on Discord, a messaging app for gamers, and then circulated more widely on social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube.
The Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the leak, while the Defense Department has set up an interagency effort to assess the impact and tighten the security of such highly sensitive documents, which are normally available only to hundreds of people across the government with the highest level of security clearance.
The leak has rattled US officials, members of Congress and key allies, who fear that the revelations could jeopardize sensitive sources and compromise important foreign relationships. The Pentagon has reached out to some of its allies to reassure them and explain the situation.
Congressional lawmakers have also expressed concerns about the apparent scope and sensitivity of the leak and have demanded answers from the Biden administration. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have requested briefings on the matter.
The leak comes at a critical time for US foreign policy, as President Biden seeks to rally support for Ukraine amid a major offensive by Kyiv against Russian-backed forces. The US has pledged to provide more military aid and diplomatic pressure to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The leak also exposes the depth and breadth of US intelligence gathering on its adversaries and allies alike, which could have serious consequences for US espionage going forward. The documents allegedly show that the US has extensive access to intelligence from inside Russia’s government, as well as information on South Korea’s internal discussions on arms sales and Israel’s Mossad spy agency.
The source and motive of the leak remain unknown, but some Western security experts and US officials have said they suspect it could be someone from the United States who may have an agenda or a grudge against the government. Others have speculated that it could be a foreign actor trying to sow discord or misinformation.
The investigation is ongoing and no arrests have been made so far.