Cyberspace has emerged as one of the dominant mediums for whistleblower revelations. The set of stakeholders now includes entities that use the internet to bring classified documents into the public domain. Although the security establishments have rebutted the disclosures made by the leaked documents, certain whistleblowers and civil-liberties organisations have lauded them. However, with the national security and geopolitical lens, these whistleblowers often tend to compromise security decisions as well as embarrass allies, questioning the ‘optics’ of geopolitics.
The United States (US) has undergone successive leaks of its classified documents by ‘whistleblowers’ – a few by experienced individuals and others by amateurs. Moving ahead from revelations made by Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony Russo to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, a fresh cache of Pentagon documents has been leaked, causing discomfort and displeasure to the US.
In a fresh development, a cache of classified Pentagon papers containing intelligence information was leaked by a junior airman in the US. The leaked trove contained 100-odd highly sensitive military and intelligence documents shared in the form of pictures over Discord – a chatroom platform popular with gamers.
As soon as news of the leak broke, snapshots of the documents were already viral across social media, circulating on Twitter, Telegram and 4chan. The leaks took the press by storm. Stunned and surprised, the US Government (USG) attempted to bring the documents down at the eleventh hour.
The documents were leaked by 21-year-old Jack Douglas Teixeira, a Massachusetts Air National Guardsman, who was later arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Teixeira led a chatroom titled ‘Thug Shaker Central’, where he began sharing classified documents. Although the group members initially shared jokes and memes, they later began discussing the Ukraine war.
A reflection of association of said chatroom members could be seen in the most striking revelations made by the document.
The leaked documents lend colour to Russian claims that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces are fighting alongside Ukrainian forces against Russia in Ukraine.
The UK Government was quick to rebut the claims, with its Ministry of Defence issuing a statement that read: “The widely reported leak of alleged classified US information has demonstrated a serious level of inaccuracy. Readers should be cautious about taking at face value allegations that have the potential to disinformation.”
It is pertinent to note that during Ukrainian President Zelensky’s February 2023 visit to the UK, the UKG extended to train Ukrainian fighter pilots and upskill 20,000 Ukrainian troops in the current year. The UK was already running training programmes to train 10,000 Ukrainian troops for “battle readiness”.
Moreover, the leaked documents contained the US administration’s assessment of responses by European nations to Kyiv’s request of training the Ukrainian military and providing arms to them.
The set of documents presents a snapshot of the positions and establishments of the militaries, weapons, defence capabilities and casualties of both countries. One of the documents suggested that although Russia’s air capability at 92% is higher than that of Ukraine’s at 68%, Ukraine is ahead with 83% ground capability against Russia's 63% ground capability.
Similarly, another document presented the casualty figures on both sides. While Russia has faced an estimated casualty of 189,500-223,000 personnel, Ukraine’s casualties stand at 124,500-131,000.
Another set of leaked documents reinforces and reinstates the success of US intelligence. The leaked documents also revealed that US intelligence has successfully penetrated and compromised the Russian Armed Forces.
Detailing the US’ espionage strategies, the documents have stated that the US has been intercepting Zelensky’s conversations with the top brass of the Ukrainian military and security agencies.
Most importantly, a document discussed the emerging trend of alliance between non-state actors; specifically, mercenary groups. One of the leaked documents revealed that the representatives of the Wagner Group met with ‘Turkish contacts’ to explore weapons trade with Mali as the transit location. It is important to mention that Turkey has been raising different mercenary armies to realise President Erdogan’s dream of a ‘Grand Caliphate’ and to take away the Ummah's leadership from the Saudi-led alliance.
Another leaked classified document revealed that Serbia, known for its perennial tussle with Russia, had both declined to sanction Russia as well as train Ukrainian forces in the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, Serbia agreed to provide arms to Ukraine, which in a greater probability, were already being used by Ukrainian forces.
Talking about the common and cut-throat enemy of the US and South Korea, one of the documents disclosed that the US administration believed that North Korea was exaggerating its proliferation technologies. It specified that the dictatorial nation over-projects its threats from intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to the US.
Mentioning North Korea’s 8th February 2023 event of parading ICBM-class launchers, the document stated, “The North (Korea) paraded these nonoperational systems to portray a larger, more capable missile force than it possesses and to mitigate the risk of damage to its real missiles.”
Discussing deepening military ties between Iran and Nicaragua (both sanctioned by the US amid its advancement in Latin America), another classified document revealed that the US-sanctioned states had discussed deepening their military cooperation in February 2023, with an eye towards checking America’s footprint in Latin America. The document elaborated that Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, met top Nicaraguan military generals during his visit to Nicaragua in February. During the meeting, the Nicaraguan military officials talked about “perceived US efforts to expand influence in Latin America and expressed a willingness to engage with Tehran and other like-minded countries”.
Further, a separate document divulged that US intelligence agencies tapped conversations of Iranian leadership as they discussed the visit of Rafael Grossi (head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to Iran) for political mileage at the domestic front. The discussions took place against the backdrop of Grossi’s visit to Iran in March after the IAEA stated that Iran was possibly enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels. According to the document, the Iranian leadership wanted to project to its citizens that the IAEA “settled” its investigation into Iran’s nuclear sites in return for convincing Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for a meeting with the IAEA.
The documents also indicated that despite facing backlash across the world for its dubious 5G projects, the Chinese government has yet not abandoned its 5G campaign. One of the classified documents talked about Chinese “pressure” on Jordan to adopt its 5G technologies. It elaborated that Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein, who is supervising the 5G rollout plan in the country, was “worried” about Chinese retaliation if he kept Huawei out of the 5G rollout plan.
Another cache of documents disclosed the development of cyber-attack capabilities by China.
According to the leaks, China has developed cyber-attack capabilities “to deny, exploit, and hijack satellite links and networks as part of its strategy to control information, which it considers to be a key warfighting domain". Another document talks about how China’s Central Military Commission discussed supplying lethal aid to Russia to attack Ukraine.
A different file stated that a “significant” Ukrainian strike using weapons from the US or the NATO on Russia would be considered an escalation by China and in turn, it may accelerate supplying weapons to Russia.
Rajinder Kumar Vij
Rajinder Kumar Vij
Devendra Kumar Sharma