US searches for intelligence leaker

Top secret documents show Ukraine’s air defense vulnerabilities, details of Russia’s planned attacks.
Posted at 8:53 PM, Apr 10, 2023

Ahead of anticipated spring offensives in Ukraine, a leak has left the U.S. intelligence community reeling. 

Top secret documents show Ukraine’s air defense vulnerabilities, details of Russia’s planned attacks, the infamous Wagner Group trying to buy weapons from NATO member Turkey, and the possibility that China may increase its aid to Russia if Ukraine strikes deep in Russia. Other documents show the U.S. spying on allies, with South Korean officials concerned about a U.S. request for ammunition and Israel’s Mossad encouraging protests against judicial reforms. Some documents are marked "TS/NOFORN," a label that indicates documents that are top secret and not to be released to foreign nationals, and some of the documents date back to just days ago. 

Aric Toler, a researcher with Scripps News’ partner Bellingcat, has been in touch with teenagers who were in the gaming channel on the Discord messaging platform where the documents appeared.

"These leaked documents started to appear sometime late last year and early this year on a very small Discord server," said Toler.

The teens told Toler that only a fraction of the classified documents shared there have gone public, and now the channel has been shut down. 

"There were hundreds and hundreds of these leaked classified secret, top secret documents posted ... A fraction of these were posted onto some other Discord channels. But there are still hundreds that have not seen the light of day," Toler said.  

Toler says the teenagers believed the original poster was an adult who was showing off.

"He didn't do this to boost Russia. He shared these documents to make his friends impressed with him. That was his motivation ... And a lot of his friends didn't even think they were real," Toler said

A Ukrainian soldier fires the howitzer at the Russian positions on the frontline.

Pentagon investigating leak of classified Ukraine war documents

Experts say the release of documents labeled "top secret" could be part of a Russian disinformation campaign.


The leaker is thought to be an American insider, according to current and former intelligence sources who spoke to Scripps News, and an investigation is focused on the Defense Department’s J2 Directorate for Intelligence. 

"I would be surprised if someone's not identified within a month," said Peter Lapp, Ret. special agent with the FBI. 

That’s because sources say that when a U.S. intelligence officer accesses a file, the activity is commonly logged. These leaked documents appear to have been printed and folded, and printing also typically requires a registered personal code, according to sources.  

But in the meantime, Lapp says, more classified documents could surface. 

"Until they're identified and at least taken offline ... it's possible that this individual remains in access and still has access to classified information," Lapp said. 

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied any involvement by Moscow, and Lapp says a connection to Russia’s intelligence services seems unlikely. 

"If you had a relationship with the Russian intelligence service, you would provide this information clandestinely, and you would minimize the public exposure. And I think the way this was done certainly suggests to me that this is not someone who already has a relationship with the Russian intelligence services," Lapp said. 

Some of the files were doctored to lower counts of Russians killed in action, and to raise Ukraine’s count. Officials in Kyiv accused Russia of making alterations.  

For now there are intelligence officers who fear the U.S. human sources may be in danger. Certain methods used to spy on Russia could end and future operations may be threatened.