US officials are searching for the source of a security breach as highly classified documents were allegedly leaked over the past few weeks on social media platforms.
Showing war-sensitive details on Ukraine’s military defences as the embattled nation prepares to launch a counteroffensive against Russian forces, the documents drew international scrutiny while alarming the Pentagon.
Heavily publicised in an article published by the New York Times last week, the leak of allegedly highly confidential documents over the past month has sent the USsecurity community into a frenzy as it seeks to identify the source of the breach.
The US national security community is grappling with fallout from the release of dozens of secret documents, including the impact on sensitive information-sharing within the government and ties with other countries, two US officials said on condition of anonymity.
Detailing Ukraine’s militaryvulnerabilities and strategic plans, the documents also contain information on US allies including Israel, South Korea and Turkey.
Ukraine on Friday said its president and top security officials had met to discuss ways to prevent future leaks.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Sunday labeled one of the documents, which purportedly revealed that one of the countrty’s intelligence agencies encouraaged recent protests against Netanyahu’s judicial reform, as “mendacious and without any foundation whatsoever”.
Meanwhile a South Korean presidential official said the country plansto discuss “issues raised” with Washington.
Although the release of documents appears to be the most serious public leak of classified information in years, US officials say it so far does not reach the scale and scope of the 700,000 documents, videos and diplomatic cables that appeared on the WikiLeaks website in 2013.
According to several national security experts and US officials, the source of the leak could be American, considering the breadth of topics covered by the documents. A pro-Russiansource, however, has not been ruled out.
The two US officials said the Pentagon is examining procedures governing how widely some of the most sensitive US secrets are shared.
Some of the documents, one of the officials said, would most likely have been available to thousands of people with US and allied government security clearances despite being highly sensitive, as the information directly affected those countries.
“The Pentagon has needed to curtail the unbridled access to some of the most sensitive intel when they’ve (got) no justifiable reason to have it,” one of the officials said, pointing to the high number of people that have access to the documents.
The Pentagon said in a statement on Sunday that it was reviewing the validity of the photographed documents that “appear to contain sensitive and highly classified material.”
An interagency effort aimed at assessing the impact that the photographed documents could have onUS national security as well as that of US allies, a standard procedure known as “damage assessment” for leaks of classified information, has also been launched, it said.
The issue has also beenreferred to the Department of Justice, which has opened a criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, the possibility of the documents having been doctored to mislead investigators as to their origin or to disseminate false information that may harm US security interests has not been ruled out, the officials said.
Former senior CIA undercover officer Daniel Hoffman said it was “highly likely” that Russian operatives posted documents related to Ukraine as part of a Russian disinformation operation, citing Moscow’s intelligences agencies’ past activities.
Such operations– meant to sow confusion, if not discord, among Russia’s adversaries– were a “classic” practice of Russian spy services to leak authentic documents in which they have inserted false information, he said.
When asked about allegations that Russia may have been responsible, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that “I cannot comment on this in any way. You and I know that there is in fact a tendency to always blame everything on Russia. It is, in general, a disease.”
Asked about the idea that Washington had spied on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Peskov, who called the leaks “quite interesting”, said that could not be ruled out.
“But the fact that the United States has been spying on various heads of state, especially in European capitals, for a long time now, has come up repeatedly, causing various scandalous situations,” he said.