It’s possible that a significant leak of sensitive American data that has rocked Washington and revealed new information about its intelligence gathering began in a chatroom on a popular social media site with gamers.
A debate initially intended to cover a wide range of topics turned to the conflict in Ukraine as it was being held on the Discord platform, which supports live voice, video, and text chats. One chat participant claimed that an anonymous user published documents purportedly categorized as part of discussions on Ukraine, first typing them out with the poster’s thoughts and then, as of a few months ago, starting to post photographs of papers with folds in them.
The posts didn’t seem to have received much attention outside of the conversation until a few weeks ago, when they started gaining more traction on social media and were picked up by influential news organizations.
U.S. officials are concerned about the disclosures, which have led to a Justice Department probe.
The records have revealed shocking and remarkably accurate information on U.S. and NATO support for Ukraine.
Also, they offered hints about initiatives to support Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, including a planned spring attack.
The extent of the exposure is still unknown. It’s also unclear whether any government attempted to distribute or tamper with the documents.
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said when asked if the American government was anticipating the release of additional intelligence materials online: “The truth and the honest answer to your question are: We don’t know.
And should we be concerned about that? It is, and you’re damn correct.
Top Pentagon spokesperson Chris Meagher advised care when “promot[ing] or amplifying any of these materials,” adding that “it does appear like presentations have been doctored.”
The leak, however, highlights the challenges the US government and other nations have in protecting confidential material.
Experts and Congressional investigations have long expressed concern about the shortcomings in American counterintelligence, the difficulties in monitoring the 3 million people with security clearances, and the production and overclassification of information by government agencies.
Kellen Dwyer, a former Justice Department prosecutor member of the team that launched a criminal prosecution against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, said, “I think that the intelligence agencies have changed and gotten better at blocking all sorts of big electronic leaks.” But obviously, they still need to improve.
An individual who claimed to be a member of the Discord chat group where papers had been appearing for months was spoken to by the Associated Press. The man, who identified as 18 years old, declined to disclose his name out of worry for his safety.
The AP could not independently verify several of the information provided by the person, and the original chatroom has been erased.