The US Justice Department is investigating a leak of classified documents from the US Military that may have originated in a social media chat room for gamers. The Discord platform chat room reportedly discussed the war in Ukraine, and an unidentified poster shared documents that were allegedly classified. Later, images of papers with folds in them were posted. The leak contained details of US and NATO assistance to Ukraine and gave clues about efforts to assist Ukraine in its war with Russia.
It is unclear if any government shared or manipulated the documents, and the scale of the exposure has yet to be determined. This breach highlights the difficulties the US and other governments face in securing classified information. US counterintelligence has long warned of weaknesses in monitoring the estimated 3 million people with security clearances, and of agencies over-classifying so much information that the US cannot reliably control it.
According to the Associated Press, a member of the Discord chat group in which documents appeared for several months was interviewed. The AP reviewed images of documents that appeared in recent weeks in discussion forums, including a top-secret analysis of deepening intelligence service ties between Russia’s FSB and agencies in the United Arab Emirates. The report also analyzed what might happen in the Russia-Ukraine war in certain “wild card” scenarios, including if Russian President Vladimir Putin or Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy were to die. The analysis is marked secret, a lower level of classification than top-secret.
Investigative journalism organization Bellingcat interviewed the same person and two others in the Discord chatroom called “Thug Shaker Central.” Bellingcat reported that documents from Thug Shaker Central appear to have been shared in another chatroom, “WowMao.” From WowMao, the documents appear to have spread more widely, eventually becoming the subject of a story in The New York Times. The Pentagon is reportedly investigating the breach.
The Discord user who spoke to the AP says he was on a call with others when The New York Times story broke. The person said his primary motivation for speaking to the media was to clear the reputation of a third person, who uses the screen name “Lucca.” Posts from Lucca featuring many of the documents were widely shared on Twitter and other social media. Those documents were reported on by The New York Times, The Washington Post and other media outlets.
The fallout from the leak has been significant. The US Justice Department has launched an investigation into the breach, and the Pentagon is conducting its own review. Meanwhile, the revelations have fueled tensions between the US and Russia, with Moscow denouncing the documents as “fake” and accusing Washington of interfering in its affairs.
The leak also raises questions about the security of classified information in the digital age. With millions of people having access to sensitive government documents, it’s difficult to ensure that the information remains secure. Furthermore, as the Bellingcat investigation shows, social media and chat rooms have become fertile ground for the sharing of classified information, creating a new set of challenges for intelligence agencies.
The leak also highlights the growing importance of investigative journalism in the age of social media. With traditional media outlets facing increasing financial pressures, organizations like Bellingcat are stepping up to fill the gap. By leveraging the power of social media and open-source intelligence, these organizations are able to uncover stories that might otherwise go unreported.
The US government has long struggled to balance the need for transparency with the need for security. In recent years, there have been numerous leaks of classified information, including the release of thousands of diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks in 2010. These leaks have raised questions about the government’s ability to protect sensitive information, and have led to calls for greater oversight and accountability.
The current leak is yet another reminder of the challenges facing the US government in the digital age. As the world becomes more connected, and as more people gain access to sensitive information, it’s increasingly difficult to ensure that that information remains secure. The US government will need to continue to adapt and evolve its approach to cybersecurity if it hopes to stay ahead of the curve.