The intelligence community was rocked after hundreds of potentially classified war documents were leaked from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), many appearing to contain information on American efforts to assist Ukraine in its war against Russia.
The leaks, which reportedly stemmed from a closed chat room on the social media website Discord, allegedly contained classified information on a variety of American war subjects, CNN reports, including "topics ranging from the mercenary Wagner Group's operations in Africa and Israel's pathways to providing lethal aid to Ukraine, to intelligence about the United Arab Emirates' ties to Russia and South Korean concerns about providing ammunition to the U.S. for use in Ukraine."
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has launched an investigation to try and discover who leaked these documents. What is most concerning, Axios notes, is that many of these documents "began circulating on Russian Telegram channels," which could give Ukraine's invaders valuable insight into their war efforts. "The Department of Defense's highest priority is the defense of our nation and our national security. We have referred this matter to the Department of Justice, which has opened a criminal investigation," Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said, per Axios.
What are commentators saying?
The biggest takeaway from the leaks is that Ukraine faces serious air defense challenges. One leaked map reportedly showed that "by May, most of Ukraine's critical national infrastructure outside Kyiv and two other areas in southwestern Ukraine will no longer have air-defense cover, with the number of unprotected critical sites jumping from six to more than 40," Simmone Shah reports for Time.
The fact that Russia may now potentially be aware of this could be "a nightmare for the Five Eyes [the intelligence coalition of the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and Canada]," Helene Cooper, Julian E. Barnes, Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Eric Schmitt write for The New York Times. U.S. officials additionally told the Times that "the scale of the leak...along with the sensitivity of the documents themselves, could be hugely damaging."
In addition to shrinking air defenses, the leaked documents also provided "insight into Ukraine's military capabilities, including battalion sizes, training on advanced weaponry and deployment of heavy combat vehicles, such as Leopard II tanks," The Hill reports.
Even if these leaks do not have a direct impact on the war, "It is signaling to Ukrainians, to Russians, to others, 'Here's what we're thinking,'" Kurt Volker, a fellow Center for European Policy Analysis, tells The Hill. Volker adds, "[The leaks] may give some clues as to the quality of our information, where we're getting it from … which will cause the people we're collecting on to shut that down."
What is next?
Even if the culprit of the leaks is eventually brought to justice, there are still significant concerns that Russia could benefit from their actions, as the documents notably "reveal possible weak links in Ukraine's military campaign against Russian forces, warning that Kyiv could run out of crucial air defense missiles by May," NBC News reports. If this scenario rings true, it "could alter the outcome of the war in favor of Russia, military analysts say."
As for Ukraine, it will look to push forward in a war that has now been going on for over a year, and one in which the country has kept the fight going against all odds. Ukraine "is betting that a spring counteroffensive can reverse these trends. The [Biden] administration backs that gamble, too," columnist David Ignatius writes for The Washington Post.
Then there is the question of just how much of this leaked information is actually accurate, something that remains unclear. It may be possible that "these documents [were] disclosed by the Russians to expose Ukrainian weakness and shatter morale," Ignatius reports. As he then writes, though, "'In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies,' British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said in 1943. But the Ukraine intelligence documents appear to be largely accurate, and they tell a chilling story."