Grave concerns raised over the leak of U.S. secrets

The recent leak of classified U.S. documents has raised serious concerns about the potential damage to and relationships with allies and other countries, including . Here's what is known, and what is still unclear, about what is being called the gravest leak of U.S. secrets in years.

Authenticity of documents

U.S. officials believe most of the leaked materials are genuine, but some have been altered to show inflated U.S. estimates for Ukrainian battlefield casualties since 's invasion in February 2022.

There are also understated numbers for Russian forces. It is unclear which of the documents have been manipulated with misinformation, and whether they are part of a Russian misinformation operation or a U.S. scheme to mislead Moscow about Kyiv's war plans.

Types of documents leaked

The documents leaked are classified as “Secret” or “Top Secret,” and include sensitive briefing slides on the war in Ukraine as it stood in February and March of this year. The Pentagon has said that the documents appear to be similar to the daily updates provided to its senior leaders and other intelligence updates, but with some inaccuracies.

Some of the materials are marked “NONFORN,” meaning they cannot be shared with foreign intelligence agencies. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and some materials are marked FVEY, which refers to the intelligence services of the English-speaking nations of , Britain, Australia, and .

This means that thousands of people with security clearances could have seen the documents. Because not all the documents are marked FVEY, U.S. officials suspect that whoever leaked them could be American.

Some of the documents are also marked FISA, indicating that they were collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs the U.S. monitoring of electronic communications.

Method of leaking

U.S. officials are still unsure how the documents were leaked. Pictures of creased documents, which suggest they might have been folded to be hidden before being removed from top-secret spaces where such materials are kept, were posted on several sites.

These platforms included Discord, an instant messaging platform popular with gamers, the online messaging board 4Chan, the encrypted Telegram global messaging app, and Twitter.

Though the documents only gained widespread attention in the last few days, the open-source investigation site Bellingcat discovered that some of the documents had been posted on social media as far back as March or even January.

In an article about the documents' “improbable journey,” Bellingcat traced the earliest references to the leak to a now-defunct Discord server, citing three former users who stated that a large number of documents had been shared there.

Content of leaked documents

The leaked documents cover a range of topics relevant to U.S. policymakers. For example, they include details about Ukrainian air strikes, the country's air defence vulnerabilities, and the size of some Ukrainian military units.

There are also descriptions of outreach efforts by the Russian mercenary group Wagner to Turkish “contacts,” Haitian government officials, and the organization's growing presence in .

Updates related to Iran's nuclear activities are also included, as well as information about how the United Arab Emirates is in talks with Russia to help build a maintenance centre for some weapons. The documents also contain predictions about how would respond to Ukrainian strikes inside Russia, along with details about British plans in the Indo-Pacific region.

Additionally, there are details about missile tests by North Korea and an assessment that a February parade likely oversold the ICBM threat to the .

Finally, the documents offer information about Brazilian officials' plan to visit Moscow in April to discuss a Ukraine mediation scheme and an assessment that is likely to struggle to achieve security goals in West and Central Africa.

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