US intelligence leaks: the threat to Ukraine

Concerns raised over the effect that the leaks might have on Ukraine’s war effort

Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline in Donetsk
Ukrainian soldiers on the frontline in Donetsk
(Image credit: Muhammed Enes Yildirim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Pentagon leaks “are staggering in scale and range”, said Kim Sengupta in The Independent.

The contents of more than 100 pages of highly classified CIA and US military documents, apparently leaked online by Jack Teixeira, a 21-year old Air National Guardsman, were sprayed across the world’s media last week. The Ukraine War was the common link in “a web of intrigue involving governments, politicians and diplomats, intelligence agencies and the military, mercenaries and arms dealers”.

Among other things, the leaks appear to reveal that the United States has been routinely spying on allies such as South Korea – which, it seems, has been grappling with US requests that it send weapons to Ukraine. Egypt, by contrast, had sought to supply Moscow with rockets, until the US intervened. British special forces, the documents suggest, have been operating on the ground in Ukraine, along with those from France and Latvia.

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“America’s allies are quietly exasperated, as well they should be,” said Kori Schake in the FT. And serious damage will have been done to US intelligence networks. But the real worry is the effect that the leaks might have on Ukraine’s war effort. The documents contained thorough assessments of Ukrainian forces and their vulnerabilities, detailing supplies of ammunition and air defence missiles, including the specific dates on which these are projected to run out. The Pentagon can only hope that the intelligence isn’t useful enough to allow Moscow to “torpedo” Ukraine’s plans for a spring offensive. Given the US’s role in “creating this vulnerability”, it should be sending more weapons and helping Ukraine to make new plans. “Increasing its assistance is the least it should do.”

There has been a lot of “performative outrage” that the Americans have been spying on their allies, including Ukraine, said Mark Galeotti in The Spectator. “But what did anyone expect? Everyone spies on everyone else.” And among intelligence professionals, there is no doubt a sense that, but for the grace of God, there go all of us. “After all, everyone and everything leaks, whether because someone incautiously takes classified materials home and leaves them on the train, or talks too freely over drinks.” Nevertheless, this is a serious embarrassment for the US, not just for its scale but for its source: that it wasn’t a committed whistleblower or a deep-cover Russian mole behind this breach, but a naive IT expert barely out of his teens, trying to impress his fellow gun enthusiasts on a gaming chat site. “Move over, George Smiley.”

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