More Classified Ukraine Documents Leaked
The problem has intensified---and spread beyond Ukraine secrets.
NYT (“New Batch of Classified Documents Appears on Social Media Sites“):
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 Biden 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, U.S. officials said. A senior intelligence official 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 Biden administration officials said they were investigating a potential leak of classified Ukrainian war plans, include an alarming assessment of Ukraine’s faltering air defense capabilities. One slide, dated Feb. 23, is labeled “Secret/NoForn,” meaning it was not meant to be shared with foreign countries.
The Justice Department said it had opened an investigation into the leaks and was in communication with the Defense Department but declined to comment further.
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.
One analyst described what has emerged so far as the “tip of the iceberg.”
But the leaked documents appear to go well beyond highly classified material on Ukraine war plans. Security analysts who have reviewed the documents tumbling onto social media sites say the increasing trove also includes sensitive briefing slides on China, the Indo-Pacific military theater, the Middle East and terrorism.
Behind closed doors, chagrined national security officials were trying to find the culprit. One official said it was likely that the documents did not come from Ukrainian officials, because they did not have access to the specific plans, which bear the imprint of the offices of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. A second official said that determining how the documents were leaked would start with identifying which officials had access to them.
The first tranche of documents appeared to have been posted in early March on Discord, a social media chat platform popular with video gamers, according to Aric Toler, an analyst at Bellingcat, the Dutch investigative site.
While I’ve had security clearances, including Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information, off and on for almost four decades now, I don’t have much experience with handling documents of this level. Longtime commenter @Andy made this observation in yesterday’s thread on the initial tranche:
[T]his ties into things I’ve discussed here before – namely a VIP culture and really crappy information and classified security.
These are printed documents, in color on nice big sheets of paper, and they are high-level products made for senior leader briefings. The fact that these were printed, and have no tracking or accountability information on them, is egregious, but unfortunately, is typical since VIP’s like paper documents. The problem, of course, is that these documents do not have any formal accountability system – they are technically working papers to be shredded once used. But it’s easy for these to get “lost” and because there is no formal accountability, probably no one knows they are lost.
It’s this same sort of lazy security practices that resulted in classified documents sitting in Pres. Biden’s garage and other places, and which allow allowed Trump to take documents without anyone knowing about it.
So again, I really hope Pres. Biden addresses this problem, but I bet, as has happened in the past, that nothing with change, and the demands for convenience by senior leadership will continue to trump good security practices.
Once again, the rules are for the little people. I recall vividly an incident from my Army days in the late 1980s when I soldier lost a training Communications-Electronics Operation Instructions (CEOI) manual—basically, the codebook for changing radio callsigns and the like while we were training at Grafenwöhr. The whole battalion spent several hours kicking around snow trying to find the thing. And this was just a training prop; the whole point of the manual is that radio frequencies, call signs, verification passwords, and the like changed every X hours (usually 24, but sometimes 12). The document wasn’t even classified.
I haven’t the foggiest who had access to these particular documents but, if Andy’s surmise that these were VIP briefing documents, we’re talking about some well-vetted people. I’d be shocked if the leaker is a general/flag officer, member of the Senior Executive/Intelligence Service, or a senior administration official. But that would leave support staff who are cleared for SCI, since some of the materials released yesterday were at that level.
@Mikey observes, “From the fold lines it looks like they were all printed out at once and the stack of papers was folded and presumably stuffed in the individual’s pocket, then later unfolded and photographed.” Andy agrees and notes, “They caught Reality Winter because classified printers often print subtle patterns that can be traced back to a specific printer – they might be able to do that if the original images are high enough resolution.” Let us hope.
Additionally, since this latest tranche goes beyond Ukraine-related secrets and includes Indo-Pacific and Middle Eastern information, this no longer seems about helping Russia. Although I suppose it’s possible they were included to throw investigators off the scent.