(CNN) — The Joe Biden administration is scrambling to assess and contain the fallout from a major leak of classified Pentagon Papers that has rocked US officials, members of Congress and key allies in recent days.
The Department of Justice (DOJ, its acronym in English) is investigating how a trove of highly classified documents, detailing US spying on friends and foes and intelligence about the war in Ukraine, ended up on social networks. .
But until now, little was known about who might have been responsible for the leak or how some of the country’s most closely guarded secrets ended up on social media.
The Defense Department is still reviewing the matter and has taken steps to restrict the flow of these highly sensitive documents, which are normally available to hundreds of people at various levels of government on any given day, officials said.
The Pentagon has launched a “media effort” to assess the impact of the leak, but US officials and their closest allies already fear the revelations could compromise critical sources and compromise important foreign relations.
Lawmakers in Congress also raised concerns about the apparent scope of the leak and the sensitivity of the documents posted online, but were largely unaware of what had happened.
The heads of the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate are both demanding answers from the Biden administration. House Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner is scheduled to receive a briefing on Monday, and his Senate colleagues have jointly requested one.
Here’s what we know about the leak so far:
The documents appeared online on the social media site Discord last month, according to screenshots of the posts reviewed by CNN.
These posts are photos of crumpled documents placed on top of magazines and surrounded by zip-top bags and other random items like gorilla glue. They appear to have been hastily folded and put into a pocket before being removed from a secure location, a source familiar with such documents told CNN.
A Discord spokesperson confirmed in a statement on Sunday that they are cooperating with authorities in the investigation.
All of the documents discovered on Friday carry classification marks, some top secret, the highest type of classification.
It is not clear who is behind the leaks or where they came from.
What is in the documents?
CNN has reviewed 53 leaked documents, all of which appear to have been created between mid-February and early March.
They contain highly classified information, providing a rare window into how the United States spies on allies and enemies alike.
Some of the documents US officials say reveal the extent of wiretapping of key allies including South Korea, Israel and Ukraine.
Others reveal the extent to which the U.S. has penetrated Russia’s Defense Ministry and the Russian mercenary organization Wagner, often through intercepted communications and human resources, which could now be disrupted or compromised.
As Ukrainian forces prepare to launch a counteroffensive against the Russians, just as the U.S. and Ukraine begin to warm their relationship, others reveal key weaknesses in Ukrainian weapons, air defenses, battalion size, and critical-moment readiness. There is a lot of mutual trust in intelligence sharing.
A document reveals that the US spied on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. It’s not surprising, a source close to Zelensky said, but Ukrainian officials are deeply frustrated by the leak.
A U.S. intelligence report based on signals intelligence said in late February that Zelensky “recommended attacking Russian deployment sites in Russia’s Rostov Oblast” using drones because Ukraine has no long-range weapons.
Signals intelligence includes intercepted communications and is broadly defined by the National Security Agency as “intelligence obtained from signals and electronic systems used by foreign targets, such as communications systems, radar, and weapons systems.”
Another document describes in remarkable detail a conversation between two of South Korea’s top national security officials about the country’s National Security Council’s concerns over a US munitions request.
Officials worried that the U.S. would later send the munitions supply to Ukraine in violation of South Korea’s policy of non-lethal aid to countries at war. According to the document, one of the officials suggested a way to avoid actually changing the policy: sell ammunition to Poland.
The document has already sparked controversy in Seoul, where South Korean officials have told reporters they plan to raise the issue with Washington.
Meanwhile, an intelligence report on Israel caused a stir in Jerusalem. The report, prepared by the CIA and obtained from the Signals Intelligence Service, said Israel’s main intelligence agency, the Mossad, was promoting protests against the country’s new government, “including several overt calls to action,” the report said.
What was the reaction of America’s allies?
While America’s allies are aware that the U.S. intelligence community is collecting information on allies, diplomats from some of the countries named told CNN that it was frustrating to see such information publicly exposed — and damaging to America’s reputation.
America’s allies are assessing the damage and trying to determine if any of their resources and systems have been compromised by the spill.
“We expect the US to share the damage assessment with us in the coming days, but we cannot wait for their assessment. We are currently doing ours,” said an official from a country that is part of US intelligence. – Apportionment Agreement, Five Eyes with the United States covering Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
“We are going through these documents thoroughly to find out if any part of the information came from our services,” the official said.
A second official from the Five Eyes country expressed concern about the leak of war information about Ukraine, which could hurt the country on the battlefield.
The official also noted that it was disturbing to see one of the February documents titled “Russia-Ukraine: War for Donbass Region Could Lead to Stalemate by 2023.” The document points to difficulties in assessing “resistance to Ukrainian actions.”
“Ukraine will be hard to top, but it doesn’t help that a US private assessment has been made public that points to a one-year stalemate,” the official said.
Mykhailo Podoliak, an adviser to the head of the office of the President of Ukraine, said on Friday that the documents published on his Telegram channel were not genuine, had “no connection with the real plans of Ukraine” and were based on “one”. Massive amount of fictitious information” spread by Russia.
However, Ukraine has already changed some of its military plans because of the leak, a source close to Zelensky told CNN.
U.S. government officials are engaged in dialogue with high-level allies and partners on this matter, including reaffirming our commitment to protecting the credibility of intelligence and our partnerships following the leak, the State Department’s chief deputy spokesman said Monday. , Vedant Patel.
Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman has been appointed to lead the State Department’s diplomatic response, a US official familiar with the matter said.
Patel declined to elaborate on which countries the U.S. was involved with, saying only that “that work is ongoing.”
Who is investigating?
The Justice Department has launched an investigation and the Defense Department is also looking into the matter.
“The Department of Defense continues to review the validity of photographic documents circulating on social media,” Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said in a statement over the weekend. “A focused effort has been undertaken to assess the potential impact of these photographed documents on the national security of the United States and the national security of our allies and partners.”
Singh added that US officials had spoken to allies and partners over the weekend and briefed “relevant congressional committees” about the leak.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, which includes the Defense Department’s high-ranking uniformed leadership that advises the president, are examining its mailing lists to see who receives the reports, a defense official said. Many of the documents had markings indicating they were produced by the Joint Staff’s intelligence unit known as J2 and appeared to be briefing documents.
A Pentagon team working to determine the scope and extent of the leak includes the Defense Department’s legislative affairs, public affairs, policy, general counsel, intelligence and defense and joint staffs, the aide said Monday. Defense Secretary for Public Affairs Chris Meagher.
Asked if the government had any idea who leaked the documents, National Security Council strategic communications coordinator John Kirby said Monday that the Defense Department had referred the case to the Justice Department for criminal investigation.
“I don’t know that they’ve come to any conclusions at this point about the source of that,” Kirby said.
Asked if management believed there was a leak or if there was an ongoing threat, Kirby replied: “We don’t know. We really don’t know.”
— CNN’s Alex Marquardt, Jeremy Herb, Jennifer Hansler and Haley Britzky contributed to this report.
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