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Pentagon leaks: Here's what we know about the classified documents

The documents detail America's powerful spying operations and suggest the US has secretly deployed special forces inside Ukraine
The Pentagon is seen from the air near Washington DC on 3 March 2022
The Pentagon in Washington DC, on 3 March 2022 (Reuters)

The United States is facing its worst intelligence leak since Edward Snowden's 2013 release of documents which exposed a vast Washington surveillance operation.

More than 100 classified documents relating to Russia, Ukraine, China and the Middle East are now believed to be in the public domain after they were posted in an obscure internet forum last month.  

The source of the leaked documents is unknown, and as of Monday, the Department of Defence was still working to assess their authenticity, though it has acknowledged they appear to contain sensitive, classified material.

Middle East Eye has broken down what we know about the leak.

The documents appear to be photographs of creased, printed-out briefing material for US officials.

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They are laid out on top of magazines and next to Gorilla Glue and nail clippers. According to Bellingcat, some documents dated January could have been posted on the messaging app Discord in January, while others extend to March.

The documents first circulated on several Discord channels - one dedicated to the Minecraft video game and the other dedicated to a Filipino YouTube celebrity - before they spread to 4Chan and later Telegram and Twitter.

US media outlets began reporting on them on 5 April after a number of Russian Telegram channels posted some of the files relating to the invasion of Ukraine. According to Bellingcat, at least one of the documents has been crudely edited. 

Unlike troves of classified documents that have been published on Wikileaks, many of the documents are not readily available and no longer appear on the sites where they were first posted.

Most media outlets have not provided links or images of the documents they are citing and the US is reportedly scrambling to remove them from social media and messaging platforms.

What are the documents about?

Many relate to the war in Ukraine. One provides information about the status of the conflict as of early March, including on Russian and Ukrainian casualties, while others detail the situations on specific fronts such as the battleground city of Bakhmut. 

Another provides information about the depleted state of Ukrainian air defences, which have been key to countering Russian missile and drone strikes.

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According to the documents, Kyiv is at risk of running out of air defences by May, potentially putting it at risk of Russia’s superior air force.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported another document detailing US concerns that a much-anticipated spring offensive by Ukraine could fall "well short" of Kyiv's original goals to retake Russian-occupied areas.

The documents also suggest the US - along with the UK, France, Latvia and the Netherlands - has secretly deployed special forces inside Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden has consistently ruled out sending combat troops to Ukraine.

The documents are embarrassing for the US, as they detail the extent of its surveillance operations against allies, but also point to the sophistication of America's spy network, saying that the US has penetrated the highest echelons of Russia’s military.

Middle East leaks

The documents have also detailed the web of Russia's ties to America's supposed allies in the Middle East, from Turkey and Egypt to the UAE.

According to the documents, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi planned to secretly supply Russia with rockets. While mercenaries from the Wagner group hatched a plan to purchase weapons from Turkey - a Nato member that has trumpeted its arms sales to Ukraine.

In a separate document viewed by the Associated Press, Russian spies were allegedly overheard by US intelligence bragging that they convinced the UAE “to work together against US and UK intelligence agencies". 

Israel’s recent political turmoil and fence-sitting on Ukraine has also been revealed.

One set of documents alleges that Mossad, Israel's spy agency, secretly encouraged people to join protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposed judicial overhaul. A report that the prime minister’s office slammed as "mendacious."

Meanwhile, the deliberations of US officials on how to recruit Israel to arm Ukraine have been revealed.

A Pentagon document titled, "Israel: Pathways to Providing Lethal Aid to Ukraine," predicts that Israel could provide arms to Ukraine under increased US pressure or a "perceived degradation" in its ties with Russia. 

Another situation could see the US leverage a more forceful posture against Iran to win Israeli support, or Russia causing a rupture in ties by downing Israeli aircraft in Syria.

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