Pentagon warns apparent intel leak poses ‘very serious risk’ to US security

Defense department says officials are in touch with allies about the sensitive files, one of which, dismissed in Israel, claims Mossad leaders pushed the anti-overhaul rallies

White House Deputy Press Secretary Chris Meagher speaks during a press briefing at the White House, March 22, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
White House Deputy Press Secretary Chris Meagher speaks during a press briefing at the White House, March 22, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The apparent leak of highly sensitive US documents — many of them related to the Ukraine conflict — presents a “very serious” risk to US national security, the Pentagon said Monday.

The breach is being investigated by the Justice Department and appears to include secret information on the war in Ukraine as well as sensitive analyses of US allies.

The documents circulating online pose “a very serious risk to national security and have the potential to spread disinformation,” Chris Meagher, the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, told journalists.

“We’re still investigating how this happened, as well as the scope of the issue. There have been steps to take a closer look at how this type of information is distributed and to whom,” Meagher said.

A steady drip of dozens of photographs of documents have been found on Twitter, Telegram, Discord, and other sites in recent days, though some may have circulated online for weeks, if not months, before they began to receive media attention last week.

Many of them are no longer available on the sites where they first appeared, and the United States is reportedly continuing to work to have them removed.

Ukrainian soldiers fire at the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, March 18, 2023. (AP Photo/ Roman Chop)

Meagher said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was not briefed on the issue until the morning of April 6 — the day a New York Times story on the documents was published.

Many of the documents relate to Ukraine, such as one that provides information on the country’s air defenses and another on international efforts to build up its military forces.

US allies, lawmakers informed

But others point to US surveillance of its allies, such as one document that states that leaders of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency advocated for domestic protests against a controversial judicial reform plan — an allegation categorically dismissed in Israel.

US officials have been in touch with Washington’s international allies about the issue, and relevant congressional committees have been informed, the Pentagon said.

Protesters rally against the government’s judicial overhaul plans, at the Azrieli junction in Tel Aviv, on April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Meagher declined to comment on whether the documents are genuine, saying a Pentagon team is working to make that assessment, but noted that images circulating online seemed to show sensitive information.

“Photos appear to show documents similar in format to those used to provide daily updates to our senior leaders on Ukraine and Russia-related operations, as well as other intelligence updates,” he said, but some “appear to have been altered.”

This includes a document circulating online that seems to have been altered to make it show that Ukraine had suffered higher casualties than Russia did, when the apparent original version said the reverse was true.

The fallout from the apparent leak could be significant — even deadly — potentially putting US intelligence sources at risk while giving the country’s foes valuable information.

“Disclosure of sensitive classified material can have tremendous implications not only for our national security, but could lead to people losing their lives,” Meagher said.

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