Published: 20:26 BST, 10 April 2023 | Updated: 14:04 BST, 11 April 2023
Top secret documents leaked online containing classified information on Ukraine’s counter-offensive plans could have been an inside job, senior officials have claimed.
They set out concerns on how Kyiv‘s armed forces are running short on some weapons, the location of Ukrainian air defenses, and the extent to which the Biden administration spies on friends and foes alike.
The documents, which have been circulated for weeks on social media, also touch on Israel’s Mossad spy agency, China, the Middle East and Africa
The leak covers such a wide range of topics, prompting experts to suggest that the main source could be an American.
‘The focus now is on this being a US leak, as many of the documents were only in US hands,’ Michael Mulroy, an ex-senior Pentagon official, told the Reuters news agency.
Kyiv-based security analyst James Rushton said that ‘the Russians are clearly the main beneficiaries’ from the leak.
‘It’s a major embarrassment to the US, and it comes at a critical time as Ukraine is preparing to launch their long-awaited Spring counteroffensive,’ he told DailyMail.com.
‘Kyiv was already cautious about sharing their operational plans with Washington; this will likely further damage intelligence sharing between Ukraine and Western partners at a crucial moment,’ he added.
US officials have not ruled out pro-Russian elements behind the leak, although the investigation by the Justice Department is still in its early stages.
It is the most serious intelligence security breach in the United States since WikiLeaks obtained some 700,000 documents, videos and diplomatic cables in 2013.
The Ukraine leaks are a series of photographs of presentations and files printed on A4 paper, folded twice, perhaps to be smuggled out of a secure area.
Images circulating on Telegram, a popular messaging app, reveal the leaker’s identity. This picture shows an English-language instruction manual for a hunting scope in the background.
Investigators will be looking at clues seen in the margins of the photos that could help unmask the leaker.
They include Gorilla glue, shoes, and an English-language instruction manual for a GlassHawk HD spotting scope traditionally used for hunting.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed suggestions that Moscow had orchestrated the release of such highly confidential information.
‘There is, in fact, a tendency to always blame everything on Russia. ‘It is, in general, a disease,’ Peskov, Putin’s long-serving propagandist, said.
Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, claimed the leak was ‘to divert attention from the actual preparation for the next stage of the war.’
Another aide to the Ukrainian leader told CNN that Ukraine’s military had already changed their counter-offensive plans as a result.
A spokesman for Mr. Zelensky failed to reply to DailyMail.com’s request for comment.
But Tom Cotton, a Republican senator from Arkansas, hit out at President Joe Biden, accusing the 80-year-old of ‘slow rolling’ US aid to Ukraine.
‘We should not be surprised that Ukraine may be running a little low on ammunition,’ he told Fox News.
‘They’ve been telling us for a year that they need more, they need more air defense systems.’
According to the leaked documents, Ukraine’s air defense systems could be depleted by the beginning of next month.
They spell out how Ukraine’s S-300 air defense systems could run out of missiles and ammunition by May 2 at the current usage rate.
The documents also detailed how Ukraine’s air defenses protecting Ukrainian troops on the front line could be ‘completely reduced’ by May 23.
An initial batch of documents labeled ‘Secret’ and ‘Top Secret’ – reportedly containing charts on the war in Ukraine as well as the strengths of different battalions – first circulated on Twitter and Russian Telegram channels last month.
And a further batch of documents of more than 100 Pentagon documents – this time also detailing US national security interests pertaining to areas including China and Israel’s Mossad spy agency – was being shared on Twitter on Friday, the New York Times reported.
The authenticity of the documents is still in doubt as experts suggest they could have been altered or used as a misinformation campaign to suit Russia’s agenda and how some of the documents giving battlefield casualty estimates from Ukraine were altered to minimize Russian losses.
Ukraine’s air defenses could be depleted within weeks – making the country vulnerable to Russia President Vladimir Putin’s fighter jets, newly leaked Pentagon documents suggests
Such closely-guarded information could be of great use to Russian forces, and Ukraine said its president Volodymyr Zelensky and top security officials met to discuss ways to prevent leaks
One of the documents, dated February 23 and marked ‘Secret,’ outlines in detail how Ukraine’s S-300 air defense systems would be depleted by May 2 at the current usage rate
These are two of the leaked documents which have been shared by the New York Times
This document appears to show the state of Ukraine’s air defenses in February and in May, when it is anticipated they’ll be badly depleted
One of the documents, dated February 23 and marked ‘Secret,’ outlines in detail how Ukraine’s S-300 air defense systems would be depleted by May 2 at the current usage rate. Such closely guarded information could be of use to Russian forces.
In the early days of the war, Ukraine relied on these air defense weapons – S-300 and the Buk to target aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles – which comprise 89 percent of Ukraine’s protection against fighter aircraft.
This allowed Ukraine to focus on battling against Putin’s ground troops, who have faced heavy losses since the war began. But the Russian despot has held his air force of 485 fighter jets back – far more than the 85 Ukraine has in its military.
‘[Russia] made the choice that they were not going to sacrifice their knights for their pawns,’ Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, told the NYT.
‘Instead, they’re going to throw those mobilized troops without proper air support, because they’re a more plentiful resource.’
Russia’s fleet also includes far more sophisticated fifth-generation planes, including the Su-57, while Ukraine’s pilots have to make do with MiG-29s, which first flew in 1983.
If Ukraine can no longer defend its skies, Putin could ramp up fighter jet attacks on Zelensky’s forces, dramatically tilting the 15-month-long conflict in his favor.
Some inaccuracies – including estimates of Russian troops’ deaths significantly lower than numbers publicly stated by U.S. officials – have led some to question the documents’ authenticity.
‘It is very important to remember that in recent decades, the Russian special services’ most successful operations have been taking place in Photoshop,’ Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate, said on Ukrainian TV.
‘From a preliminary analysis of these materials, we see false, distorted figures on losses on both sides, with part of the information collected from open sources.’
In a statement on Sunday, the Pentagon said it was reviewing the validity of the photographed documents that ‘appear to contain sensitive and highly classified material.’
US officials told the Washington Post that some documents appeared to have been manipulated, but many were consistent with CIA World Intelligence Review reports that are shared at high levels within the White House, Pentagon and State Department.
Defense analysts say any breach of internal classified US documents would be both damaging and potentially embarrassing.
In addition, the leak would prove valuable to Moscow by showing how deeply US intelligence has penetrated parts of the Russian military apparatus,
One document marked ‘Top Secret’ and a CIA Intel update from March 1 says the Mossad intelligence agency was encouraging protests against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to tighten controls on the Supreme Court.
Ukraine managed to keep Putin’s fighter jets at bay as he pulled the troops back. Pictured: Su-34 jet fighter of the Russian Air Force firing missiles during Exercise Aviadarts 2018.
Because according to the leaked documents, Ukraine’s stockpile is rapidly depleting, which in turn, opens up a window for Russian planes to attack
Putin could decide that it is now safe enough to send in Russia’s ‘valuable and numerous fighter jets and bombers to attack Ukrainian positions and artillery’
The document said the U.S. learned this through signals intelligence, suggesting the United States had been spying on one of its most important allies in the Middle East.
In a statement on Sunday, Netanyahu’s office described the assertion as ‘mendacious and without any foundation whatsoever.’
Another document gave details of internal discussions among senior South Korean officials about U.S. pressure on Seoul to help supply weapons to Ukraine, and its policy of not doing so.
The office of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said on Monday that fact checks on the documents are a priority and that it would request the U.S. to take ‘appropriate’ steps after confirming details.
Yoon’s office said the possibility that the documents were fabricated or a product of third-party interference cannot be ruled out, warning any attempts to ‘disrupt the alliance would face repercussions’.
Some lawmakers of South Korea’s main opposition Democratic Party expressed ‘strong regret’ over the spying allegations, calling them a clear violation of national sovereignty and a major security failure of the Yoon administration.
‘We strongly demand a thorough investigation and urge that similar incidents do not occur,’ the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
The Pentagon has not addressed the contents of any specific documents, including the apparent surveillance of allies.
Two U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, expressed concerns about the leak at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies. Conversely, they downplayed the release as the documents showed a snapshot from over a month ago rather than more recent assessments.
The two officials said the military and intelligence agencies were looking at their processes for how widely some intelligence is shared internally.
One U.S. official said the initial documents resemble data produced daily by the Joint Staff, although some numbers are wrong.
The official said that even if they were legitimate, the U.S. believes there is little real intelligence value to the documents, since much of it is information Russia would already know or could glean from the battlefield.
The charts and graphs describe some battlefield status of both sides from a month ago, U.S. military movements during the previous 24 hours, personnel numbers and the local weather outlook.
But there are errors, including a section titled ‘Total Assessed Losses,’ in which one document lists 16,000-17,500 Russian casualties and up to 71,000 Ukrainian deaths.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said publicly last November that Russia has lost ‘well over’ 100,000 soldiers, and Ukraine had lost about that many also. And those estimates have continued to climb in recent months, although officials have stopped providing more exact numbers.
Officials are looking at what motivations a U.S. official or a group of officials would have in leaking such sensitive information, said one of the officials who spoke to Reuters.
The official said investigators were looking at four or five theories, from a disgruntled employee to an insider threat who actively wanted to undermine U.S. national security interests.
Meanwhile, one U.S. military official said that providing air defense system reinforcements to Ukraine is key in helping the country regain territory in its planned spring counteroffensive.
Because according to the leaked documents, their stockpile is rapidly depleting, which opens up a window for Russian planes to attack.
Putin could decide that it is now safe enough to send in Russia’s ‘valuable and numerous fighter jets and bombers to attack Ukrainian positions and artillery,’ senior Pentagon officials said, according to the New York Times.
‘Russia still remains a bit fearful of flying into Ukraine because there’s still a fair amount of density of Ukrainian kit,’ U.S. General Philip Breedlove told the NYT.
Such a move could be a risky one for Putin.
‘Just because he brings it back in play doesn’t mean it’s going to have smashing success,’ General Breedlove said.
Another report of the leaked documents has the number of Russian fighter jets currently deployed in Ukraine at 485 compared with 85 Ukrainian jets
However, European countries have stepped up efforts to reinforce the country’s air defenses, providing missiles for Ukraine’s existing systems, like its Soviet-era S-300s. Pictured: A Ukrainian Airforce MIG 29 perform during the annual Air Show in 2016
Officials say it’s not clear if the additional aid the US is sending will be enough, and say it depends on whether Putin continues to hold back his warplanes and if NATO allies make their own deliveries, the NYT reported.
In November, Ukraine received a National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS), which is produced by both the United States and Norway.
NASAMS include radar, sensors, launchers that can be loaded with six missiles each and a mobile command center where soldiers can monitor airborne threats.
But Western countries have also begun providing Kyiv with more sophisticated systems – including German, who sent IRIS-T air defense batteries, each consisting of a radar, a command-and-control system and three missile launchers, carrying 24 missiles, the NYT reported.
Some officials have expressed concern about Ukraine’s low stockpile.
Another leaked document report shows that the number of Russian fighter jets currently deployed in Ukraine is 485 compared with 85 Ukrainian jets.
However, European countries have stepped up efforts to reinforce their air defenses, providing missiles for Ukraine’s existing systems, like its Soviet-era S-300s.
The intelligence breach could have a drastic impact upon the landscape of the conflict in Ukraine. Biden, left, is pictured meeting Ukrainian President Zelensky in February 2023
Despite the Biden administration pouring almost $200 billion into the Ukrainian military, the leak revealed that its stockpiles are severely depleted and it is low on air defense ammunition
The trove of leaked Pentagon documents suggests the US knows far more about Russia’s war campaign than Ukraine’s military strategy.
The documents leaked online in recent days portray the Russian military as struggling in their war with Ukraine, which has killed hundreds of thousands.
Intelligence agencies are believed to have comprehensively infiltrated Russia’s military and its leading spy agencies, offering considerable knowledge of upcoming maneuvers and insights into how badly Putin’s war is going.
But the same cannot be said for Ukraine, according to the New York Times. The paper reported, ‘The United States has a clearer understanding of Russian military operations than it does of Ukrainian planning.’
US officials have allegedly resorted to spying on Ukraine to get an idea of their military plans.
America also remains unsure of the total number of Ukrainian casualties – with the documents stating only that Zelensky’s forces have suffered 124,500 to 131,000 casualties, and 17,500 dead.
Even then, intelligence officials say confidence in the accuracy of those figures are low.
Pictured: A villager is seen near a wracked car during heavy fighting at the front line of Bakhmut and Chasiv Yar, in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine in April 2023
A villager collects wood during heavy fighting at the front line of Bakhmut and Chasiv Yar
Smoke rises from the town of Bakhmut as heavy fighting for control of the town continues
The United States has devoted most of its considerable spying resources to hindering Putin’s efforts and helping Ukraine.
But its spies have also been eavesdropping on allies, including Ukraine, the United Kingdom, South Korea and Israel.
The Times reported that the U.S. is spying on Ukraine in the hopes of getting a clearer picture of its military strategies and helping maximize the effectiveness of its army against Putin.
That comes despite the US Joe Biden’s administration stumping up more than $77 billion in aid to the war-torn country since the full-scale invasion began last year.
Those figures have been complied by the German think-tank the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
US cash has been credited for helping the country successfully hold-off Russian advances far longer than anyone thought necessary.
And while support for funding Ukraine continues to have bipartisan support, news that US officials are often in the dark could raise questions over the sheer amount of resources the White House continues to send to Eastern Europe.
The documents, which included reports from late February to early March, also unearthed probes in several other nations, including South Korea, Iran and the UK
The documents have revealed the efficacy of US efforts to infiltrate Russian intelligence. Pictured: Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, April 6, 2023
The 100 pages of documents, at least some believed to be accurate, were leaked on a Discord server earlier this year.
They’ve triggered panic at the Pentagon, and a huge effort to work out where the leak is coming from.
Ukraine has suggested they’re not real, but Pentagon officials are said to be treating them as genuine, exposing another schism between the US and its costly ally.
They also appear to show that the intelligence services have been compromised as some reports contain daily real-time warnings on the timing and targets of Moscow’s strikes – which has enabled the U.S. to warn their Ukrainian counterparts.
The documents – up to several months old – offer detailed insights into which Russian intelligence agencies have been most compromised, and clues as to how the United States has gleaned so much secret Kremlin information.
The documents – while up to several months old – offer detailed insights into which Russian intelligence agencies have been most compromised, and clues as to how the United States has gleaned so much secret Kremlin information
Leaked documents suggest the U.S. knows more about Putin’s war operations than Zelensky’s, which raises questions over the $200 billion in military aid that has been sent to Ukraine
The document leak indicates that the US has been spying on Ukrainian allied officials. Pictured: A Ukrainian serviceman in training exercises in Donetsk
Russia flagship Moskva was blown up by Ukrainian missiles last April and sunk in the Black Sea, leading to deaths of hundreds of servicemen. It was seen as a huge coup for Ukraine, whose forces have been given a steady stream of accurate intelligence on Russia that has proved devastating for Putin’s war effort
Michael Novakhov’s favorite articles on Inoreader