What We Know So Far About the Leaked Classified U.S. Military Documents

4 minute read
Updated: | Originally published:

One of the largest leaks of classified U.S. military documents in a decade has sparked an official investigation by the Department of Defense and could complicate American support for Ukraine shortly before a major offensive by Kyiv.

Multiple tranches of documents have appeared on social media sites over recent weeks, some of them reportedly intended only for those with the highest levels of U.S. security clearance. The information covers a wide range of topics, from U.S. assessments of the war in Ukraine to intelligence gathered on diplomatic allies.

Here’s what we know about the leaks so far:

Read More: 4 Major Takeaways From the Leaked Pentagon Files

What is in the documents?

According to the New York Times and other outlets, the initial document leaks focused on U.S. assessments of the war in Ukraine originally written in February and March, including estimated casualties on both sides and what equipment and ammunition would be required by Kyiv in the future. However, they reported that at least one document appears to have been altered to lower Russia’s death toll in the war and inflate that of Ukraine, raising questions over the reliability of the papers.

More from TIME

Among the more recent leaks, there have also been reports on the U.S. gathering intelligence on its diplomatic allies, including South Korea, Israel and Ukraine. The documents also allegedly lay out the U.S.’s extensive access to intelligence from inside Russia’s government, revelations that could have dire consequences for American espionage going forward.

Where did the documents appear?

The leaked information has turned up across multiple social media platforms and apps in recent weeks, including Twitter and YouTube.

Bellingcat, an independent investigative news outlet, said the documents appeared to have originally been posted on obscure internet sites, including a Minecraft channel on Discord, which is a popular messaging application for fans of computer games.

The documents drew greater attention once they were discovered and posted more broadly to far-right noticeboard 4Chan and pro-Russian messaging groups on the Telegram app.

What do we know about their origins?

Most of the documents appear to be photographs of classified Pentagon briefing reports that look as though they had previously been folded up before the images were taken, according to the Times. That suggests someone removed them, possibly in a pocket or briefcase, from their original home.

Who was behind the leaks?

While authorities are still hunting for the leaker, one culprit could be a man called “OG” who joined a group on Discord in 2020 and posted intelligence documents there, according to a report in the Washington Post. The article, which cited two members of the online group, suggested the leaker is a gun enthusiast working at a secure facility at a US military base, who ranted about “government overreach.”

Have they been deleted from the internet?

With the documents now widely shared on the internet, it’s highly unlikely that they can now be removed or hidden. At least one major social media platform, Twitter, seems to have little appetite for forcibly erasing the documents. Its billionaire owner, Elon Musk, mocked the idea of potentially removing the documents from the web in a tweet last week. Still, the White House said efforts were being made to remove the material.

How have countries responded?

Ukraine has dismissed the documents publicly as Russian disinformation, with an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy telling the New York Times that they were “fictional.” “Russia is trying to influence Ukrainian society, sow fear, panic, mistrust and doubt,” the report cited the adviser as saying. “It’s typical behavior.”

At the same time, Russian state media Sputnik claimed the leak exposed divisions in the US over President Joe Biden’s Ukraine policy, while a government spokesman told CNN the documents showed the close involvement of the U.S. in the war in Ukraine.

U.S. allies have so far reacted with concern to the news of the leaks, but have emphasized their faith in American authorities to investigate. The South Korean government, which was mentioned in the leaks, said in a statement on Sunday it would be discussing the matter with the U.S., while Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the ABC it was seeking “further information.”

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com