The latest US intelligence leaks have rattled allies and enemies alike. Spying, special forces, and logistical worries were all exposed in documents quietly released on gaming sites. Whilst these are not nearly on the scale of Wikileaks or the Snowden files, they give us an important snapshot of US military power.
Documents said to be classified US intelligence material first started to appear on gaming websites and internet chatrooms in March. The Pentagon appears to have pinpointed the first appearance of the leaks to Discord and 4Chan. And the net seems to be closing in on the alleged leaker – one US paper reported him to be a gun enthusiast who worked on a military base.
The leaks revealed once again how the US spies on its own allies. As Agence France-Presse reported:
The leaks, which the Pentagon have called a serious risk to national security, have revealed US unease over the viability of a coming Ukrainian counterofensive against Russian forces, and suggested it spied on allies Israel and South Korea.
But while these kinds of revelations are embarrassing, they’re not usually terminal for alliances.
One leaked US report, for example, warned that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had deepened ties with Russia. While UAE denies this, it nevertheless makes US relations with the Gulf state diplomatically awkward.
Egypt was also forced to deny that it had cut a secret deal to supply Russia with rockets, gunpowder, and artillery ammunition as one leaked US intelligence report claimed.
Even more embarrassing are the pessimistic US assessments about a Ukrainian rapid victory. An assessment meant for US-eyes-only warned that a spring offensive will make only moderate gains. Primarily, this concerns military logistical issues like a shortage of effective air defence from Russian jets.
US and Ukrainian sources told CNN that plans had been quickly changed as a result of the leak. Additionally, the US House Intelligence Committee chair told the outlet:
These documents are static. They’re a picture of a specific time. Both United States and Ukraine have the ability to modify what they’re doing and how they’re approaching this issue, and we certainly have plenty of time for Ukraine to do so
What this may mean, despite officials from both countries hurrying to play down the leaks, is that the Ukraine war could drag on for much longer than expected. At least, that is, as far as the US is concerned.
Closer to home, one set of documents appears to reveal that the UK is the biggest NATO contributor of special forces to Ukraine. Declassified UK reported a slide – part of the trove of leaks – which put 50 UK special forces troops in Ukraine as recently as March. These troops exceeded those from Ukraine and Middle Eastern allies like Egypt and UAE.
The UK government doesn’t usually comment on special forces operations. However, former soldier, Tory MP, and Commons defence committee chair Tobias Ellwood warned that lives could be put in danger by the leaks.
Meanwhile, a US official said that some of the documents – which are yet to be verified – appear to have been doctored.
Russian officials speculated about the veracity of the leaks. Deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters:
It’s probably interesting for someone to look at these documents, if they really are documents or they could be a fake or it could be an intentional leak
Since the US is a party to the (Ukraine) conflict and is essentially waging a hybrid war against us, it is possible that such techniques are being used to deceive their opponent, the Russian Federation
Photographs of the documents have been found on Twitter, Telegram, Discord, and other sites in recent days, though some may have been circulating online for some time.
US leaks: a snapshot of empire
US officials aren’t wrong when they say these leaks show a static moment. However, that doesn’t mean lessons can’t be taken from these snapshots of US empire.
For example, internal US pessimism about Ukraine may suggest a long, grinding war, and perhaps ultimately a stalemate. And that should matter to us all. Meanwhile, for those of us in the UK, the opaque nature of secretive special forces deployments should cause concern. Where, we might ask, is our say in this?
So yes, these leaks might just be a snapshot of the American war machine at work – but at least they can start to bring into relief what our governments are keeping from us.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Press
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons/Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, cropped to 770 x 403, licenced under CC BY 2.0.