Pentagon assessing damage after ‘highly classified’ US secrets leaked online

“The Department of Defense is working around the clock to look at the scope and scale of the distribution, the assessed impact and our mitigation measures,” said Chris Meagher, the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin at the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, April 26, 2022. (US Air Force/ Staff Sgt. Megan M. Beatty)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is among the agencies racing to assess the damage caused by the apparent leak of dozens of “sensitive and highly classified” national security documents online, a spokesperson for the department said today.

“We’ve been in close touch with the White House and with interagency partners on this issue, and an interagency effort has been set up with a focus on assessing the impact these photograph[ed] documents could potentially have on US national security and our allies and partners,” Chris Meagher, the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, told reporters.

“The Department of Defense is working around the clock to look at the scope and scale of the distribution, the assessed impact and our mitigation measures,” he added. 

Last week the New York Times first reported a batch of what appear to be US national security documents surfaced on Discord, a social media platform popular with the video game community, back in early March but had gone unnoticed by authorities for weeks. Additional tranches of documents were discovered online this weekend after they spread to other platforms, reportedly covering a breadth of topics from military operations inside Ukraine to internal deliberations in Israel and South Korea, revealing or hinting at American intelligence-gathering methods and penetrations.

“These photos appear to show documents similar in format to those used to provide daily updates to our senior leaders on Ukraine- and Russia-related operations as well as other intelligence updates,” Meagher said of some of the material.

“I’m not going to classify for you exactly the universe of people who have access to this material,” he added. “I will just say… it is highly classified, sensitive material that people in DoD, certainly, and other aspects of the US government use to inform their work.”

Meagher said that “some” of the material “appear[s] to have been altered” but declined to elaborate. The Times reported that in some versions online casualty numbers for Ukraine and Russia looked like they’d been changed.

When asked specifically about Ukraine and the potential ripple effects of the leak on the war, especially given that some of the documents detail Kyiv’s battlefield strategies and assess that the nation’s air defense capabilities are faltering, Meagher demurred. He reasserted that the US is committed to supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”

“We’re going to continue to work to provide them with the capabilities, with the ammunition with the equipment and with the training that they need to be successful,” Meagher said.

Meagher did confirm that Defense Secretary Llyod Austin was “initially briefed” about the unauthorized disclosure of documents on April 6 and has been receiving additional briefings since. As a result, the DoD has stood up a “cross department effort to make sure that we were assessing those potential impacts, engaging our allies and partners along with the Hill and determining the way ahead.”

The DoD is also leading an interagency effort with stakeholders from the White House, National Security Council, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and State Department, and the case has been referred to the Department of Justice for a criminal investigation.

Beyond America’s borders, administration officials spent the past several days reaching out to partners and allies to discuss what is in the documents, but Meagher declined to disclose which countries have been contracted or “characterize” the tone of those calls. The Washington Post reported foreign officials were stunned by the leak and the fact that the material was online for as long as it was without being discovered.

“The (DoD) and other US officials are engaging with allies and partners at high levels to reassure them of our commitment to safeguarding intelligence and fidelity to our security partnership,” Meagher said. 

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