Sunday, June 16, 2024

Mint Explainer: What the Pentagon intelligence leaks reveal

A damaging series of classified leaks have put America’s intelligence agencies on the backfoot. Secret documents pertaining to the ongoing war in Ukraine as well as Washington’s ongoing global surveillance operations have been found on a number of social media platforms and forums. Here’s a look at what these documents reveal.

  • A few days ago the New York Times reported that an estimated 100 pages of classified US intelligence were floating around on platforms and forums such as Discord and 4Chan. US officials have acknowledged that the documents appear genuine and may represent a serious intelligence breach.
  • The documents cover a range of subjects, such as Russia’s military strategy in Ukraine, surveillance of US allies such as South Korea and Israel, and the enduring weaknesses in Ukraine’s military. Most of the documents are dated February and March 2023.
  • The documents reveal the scale of America’s intelligence penetration into Russia’s national security system. They demonstrate that Washington was keenly aware of internal debates on Ukraine at the highest levels of the Russian military. America was also aware of plans by Russian intelligence agencies to launch a soft-power push in Africa to swing public opinion in Moscow’s favour.
  • That’s not all. America’s military was also aware of planned Russian missile strikes and may have been able to forewarn Ukrainian forces.
  • The documents also contain sensitive details about the Ukrainian military’s preparedness for a new counter-offensive against Russia. Kyiv has hotly denied the veracity of these leaks and claims that they are Russian propaganda.
  • The leaked papers revealed that the US continues to spy on close allies such as Israel and South Korea. In the case of the latter, Washington was able to intercept intelligence relating to Seoul’s deliberations on whether to send lethal military weapons to Ukraine. These revelations have already created a furore in South Korea.
  • The Pentagon and the rest of America’s national security apparatus is scrambling to uncover the source of the leaks. This is no easy task given the number of officials and personnel that could have had access to said intelligence.
  • At one level, the leaks are deeply embarrassing for the US intelligence community. Classified information is shared with the understanding that it will be handled securely and responsibly. According to media reports, the US government was unaware of the leaks until the New York Times reported the story.
  • However, according to James Clapper, a former US Director of National Intelligence, this incident is not as serious as the 2013 leaks by Edward Snowden. While these will lead to awkward conversations with allies about intelligence operations on their soil, Clapper believes such activities are regularly carried out by all nations in service of their national security.

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