A major leak of top secret Pentagon documents shook the US and its allies on Monday, with the files providing a rare private peek into Washington’s global policies.
One of the key factors making the documents so controversial is that they show the US has been spying on major allies such as South Korea, which is crucial for American interests amid the presence of a nuclear-armed North Korea run by an unpredictable dictator; Israel, which is central to US policies in the Middle East and Ukraine, which is in dire need of US military support amid the ongoing Russian war.
How it all started
Not in the depths of the dark web or on an obscure website, instead it all started at a very unlikely place on the internet for political leaks.
A user on Discord, a communication platform popular among gamers, was the first place where leaks containing hasty photos of printed-out documents were posted.
Investigative journalistic outlet, Bellingcat, reported that the leaks sat on a Discord server called “Minecraft Earth Map” for a full month before anyone batted an eye.
The internet being the internet, the leaks spread all over social media in no time. The next stops for the leaks were the image board 4chan, then Reddit, then Russian Telegram groups and, finally, Twitter, where it made waves.
The Press was quick to jump on the story and started asking questions. “They look real,” an unnamed US official told CNN, while the Pentagon’s Deputy Press Secretary, Sabrina Singh, also released a statement.
“The Department of Defence continues to review and assess the validity of the photographed documents that are circulating on social media sites and that appear to contain sensitive and highly classified material,” she said.
“An inter-agency effort has been stood up, focused on assessing the impact these photographed documents could have on US national security and on our Allies and partners,” Singh stressed, adding that US has been in contact with its allies and partners on the issue, while “relevant congressional committees” were also informed.
Meanwhile, the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance – made up of the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK – also seemed concerned.
“We expect the US to share a damage assessment with us in the coming days, but we cannot wait for their assessment,” an official from a Five Eyes member country told US media.
Leaks on Russia-Ukraine war
Ukraine looms large in the leaked documents. One document shows that the US has been spying on Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The leaked files also point to Ukraine’s shaky military strength after a whole year of fighting off Russia. The documents also emphasise weak spots in Ukrainian air defences and ammunition supply issues.
The documents also say US intelligence infiltrated Russian military and was able to warn Ukraine of upcoming attacks. The leaked files also imply that Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU, and the paramilitary group, Wagner, central to Russian warfare, have been compromised by the US.
‘Russia nearly downed UK jet’
The leaked files also say that Russian air forces nearly shot down a UK surveillance plane off the coast of Crimea, an internationally recognised territory of Ukraine which has been under Russian occupation since 2014.
Russia’s occupation of Crimea – seen by some as a prelude to the current war – has been condemned by the US, European Union, NATO and Turkiye.
Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, was quick to comment on the leaks, calling them “quite interesting”.
US spying on South Korea
On US eavesdropping on its ally, South Korea, the documents show that Seoul is “grappling” with Washington’s persistent request that it send military equipment to Ukraine and fears that, if it agrees to, it could anger Russia.
The documents also voice US concerns about China entering Russia’s war on Ukraine, saying that an attack by Ukraine on Russian soil with NATO weaponry could draw Beijing into the conflict.
Iran’s nuclear program penetrated
The leaked files also include crucial information about US policies on the Middle East, suggesting that American operatives have successfully penetrated Iran’s nuclear program and have been providing intel to Washington on the country’s nuclear research.
Israeli protests also mentioned
Israel, Iran’s arch-enemy and a US ally, is also mentioned in the files. The documents say that the leaders of Israel’s intel service, the Mossad, advocated for officials and Israeli citizens “to protest the new Israeli Government’s proposed judicial reforms, including several explicit calls to action that decried the Israeli Government”.
Massive protests over the controversial reforms – which critics call a naked power grab by the government – late last month, led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to delay the plans, leaving their future in doubt.
The multiple tranches of leaked documents have been a blow to US interests and global policies, all the while causing concern among its allies and creating an atmosphere of distrust.
The ramifications of the leak are sure to be detrimental for the West, leaving the US scrambling to carry out proper damage control.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.