America The government is reeling this week from the leak of classified Pentagon Papers, which include various recent intelligence updates and briefings from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The documents seem to be very recent, especially from January to early March. Trove was first posted on Discord a few weeks ago, before some documents recently surfaced on Russian Telegram channels and then on Twitter.
First reporting of the situation – by New York TimesThe one that broke the story – focused on about 100 documents, but some reports suggest that even more confidential documents may have been shared on Discord in the past few months. The documents are photographs of printed presentation slides. Some of the papers were folded before being photographed, and some of the photographs were framed. Pieces of other things who were on the table with the papers.
Researchers said the transfer comes at the height of other high-profile revelations about covert US government activity—a list that includes Edward Snowden’s NSN mass surveillance activities, details of the CIA’s hacking capabilities in the Vul7 revelations published by WikiLeaks, and the NSA’s hacking tools. Revealed in the Shadow Brokers leak. But this latest leak has some specific characteristics that reflect the current era: it’s relatively small and contains fresh data, not data that’s older than many months or years. And while it’s still unclear who leaked the documents or what their motivations were, early indications from Discord activity suggest the leaker may be trying to show off to their gaming buddies, and possibly a teenager or young adult.
“I’m very surprised by the idea of a small, actual leak,” said Dan Meyer, a law firm that works on federal employment and national security issues. Meyer was previously a federal investigator and whistleblower in the US government. Using “strategic leaks” has been a strategy of high-ranking officials “for a very long time,” says Meyer. But now the technology has become a reality with phones and the ability to move these documents in ways the government never imagined.
The latest leaked documents reveal detailed information about the war in Ukraine, including the Ukrainian military’s air defenses and plans for future counterattacks against Russia. In particular, Trove exposed details of Russia’s war effort and the extent to which the United States’ intelligence community penetrated Russia’s military and intelligence services.
As with any leak of government secrets, the most impactful revelations relate to methods and access rather than to specific information in the long run. This means, for example, that Russian intelligence will make changes in its procedures in response to communications about the escape of American operatives. The leaks included indications that the US had been spying on allies such as South Korea and Israeli officials, a move not surprising but a diplomatic embarrassment.
“We’re still investigating how this happened and the scope of it,” Chris Meagher, the US assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told reporters on Tuesday. “There have been steps to take a closer look at how this type of information is shared and to whom. We’re still trying to assess what might be out there.”