U.S. officials think classified U.S. documents about Ukraine’s war effort that appeared on-line are likely real and the result of a leak, but that some of the documents may have been altered before they were posted.
The documents, posted in recent days as photos on Twitter and Telegram, outline Ukraine’s military strength, the state of the conflict, casualty figures and the burn rate for the HIMARS long-range rocket systems that the U.S. provided to Ukraine. Some of them carry a March 1 date.
The documents seem to reveal what the U.S. has learned via signals intelligence — intercepted electronic communications — about Russian plans and operations. A former U.S. intelligence official said there could be serious fallout if a stream of signals intelligence on Russia has been exposed.
The New York Times first reported on the documents.
It is not known who is behind the alleged leak and it remains unclear how the trove of documents ended up on various social media sites.
The full impact of the leak remains unclear, but it could represent the most serious breach of U.S. intelligence secrets since a contractor for the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, passed on thousands of classified documents to journalists about U.S. electronic surveillance in 2013. In this case, the scale of the disclosure is much smaller, involving dozens instead of thousands of documents.
The documents include repeated references to information based on secret signals intelligence — electronic eavesdropping — a crucial pillar of U.S. intelligence-gathering. A former U.S. intelligence official said the disclosure of some signals intelligence reporting about Russia and its spy agencies could cause significant damage if Moscow is able to cut off those sources of information.
Here are some of the highlights from the documents:
- Russia’s private mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group, has sought to purchase weapons from NATO member Turkey, as well as from Mali. The group is also considering recruiting more convicts for the war in Ukraine, according to the documents, citing signals intelligence.
- Some documents include satellite images of damage to various targets from Ukrainian strikes in February. A strike on an “assembly area” caused “severe damage” and was carried out with the help of U.S. intelligence, a document said.
- The battle for Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region is most likely headed for a “stalemate” through 2023, exhausting Russian units and frustrating Moscow’s war aims, according to an assessment based on signals intelligence and National Reconnaissance Office satellite and commercial satellite imagery, a document said.
- A document marked “secret” examines why Ukrainian bombs equipped with U.S.-made guidance systems, known as Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, have failed recently. It speculates that bomb fuses are not being armed correctly and that GPS signal issues — potentially caused by Russian jamming efforts — could be at play.
- A Feb. 28 document assesses “pathways” for Israel to provide “lethal aid” to Ukraine, providing hypothetical situations that might drive Israel from its balancing act between Kyiv and Moscow. Marked “secret,” the document also suggests what Israeli weapons could be transferred to Ukraine, such as Israel’s Javelin equivalent and other missile systems. The analysis says the “most plausible” scenario is that Jerusalem adopts a Turkish model under U.S. pressure. Like Ankara, it would mean that Israel “sells lethal defense systems or provides them through third-party entities” while openly advocating for peace and “offering to host mediation efforts.” Alternative scenarios consider how Moscow’s support of Iran’s military programs or proxy efforts in Syria could drive Israel to provide Ukraine with “lethal aid.”
- South Korea has concerns about providing artillery shells to the U.S. to replenish America’s supplies, as officials worried that the ammunition would end with Ukraine’s military, according to documents citing signals intelligence.
- The leadership of Israel’s Mossad foreign intelligence service encouraged its staff to take part in anti-government protests that have swept Israel, according to one document. Israel issued a statement vehemently denying the assertion when it was first reported.