The US Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the leaks of a trove of apparent US intelligence documents that were posted on social media in recent weeks.
The investigation comes as new documents surfaced Friday covering everything from US support for Ukraine to information about key US allies like Israel, widening the fallout from the already alarming leaks. The Pentagon on Thursday said it was looking into the matter after social media posts of apparently classified documents on the war in Ukraine had emerged.
US officials say they are taking the leaks seriously as they investigate and work toward a more formal assessment of what is in the documents and how they were leaked. So far, they appear legitimate, and there isn’t a major reason to doubt that the documents are in fact what they appear to be. US officials believe their public release would represent a significant breach.
The documents that were surfaced on Friday by open-source intelligence researchers appear to have been posted online in the past few weeks. They appear to contain classified information on topics ranging from the mercenary Wagner Group’s operations in Africa and Israel’s pathways to providing lethal aid to Ukraine, to intelligence about the United Arab Emirates’ ties to Russia and South Korean concerns about providing ammunition to the US for use in Ukraine.
American Broadcaster, CNN, could not independently verify that the documents have not been altered. But they are similar to a tranche of classified documents about Ukraine that have been circulating online in recent weeks, which US officials on Friday morning confirmed to be authentic.
Much like those documents, Friday’s discoveries were also photos of printed-out, wrinkled documents. All bore classified markings, some top secret – the highest level of classification. They also all appear to have been produced between mid-February and early March.
It is unclear who is behind the leaks and where, exactly, they originated.
The leaks have rattled Pentagon officials, particularly within the Defense Department’s Joint Staff, which comprises the DoD’s most senior uniformed leadership, whose role is to advise the president. Many of the documents had markings indicating that they were produced by the Joint Staff’s intelligence arm, known as J2, and appear to be briefing documents.
Earlier Friday, US officials confirmed that similar documents about Ukraine were part of a larger daily intelligence briefing deck produced by the Pentagon about the war for senior leadership.
US officials suggested that a leak investigation would look inward, at potential culprits inside the Pentagon. But a person familiar with US intelligence said a probe would likely not be limited to the Pentagon, given the large number of people across the government who have access to these kinds of documents. Some of the documents also have markings indicating that they were shared with countries in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance – the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Officials from the other Five Eyes countries are waiting for the US to share a damage assessment, as the countries simultaneously conduct their own assessments, one official said.
“We expect the US to share a damage assessment with us in the coming days, but we cannot wait for their assessment; right now we are doing our own,” the official said. “We are poring over these documents to figure out if any of the intelligence originated from our collection.”
Some of the intelligence could have originated from Five Eyes partners, the official said. But the documents appear to have been obtained and leaked by someone who gained access to the US intelligence system, because some of them have markings indicating that their contents were not even shared with the closest US intelligence partners.
The official said that it was hard to determine the motivation behind leaking these documents because they are about a wide range of topics.
Other markings indicate the inclusion of material from other agencies, such as the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency.
Many of the documents, however, also have markings indicating they are sourced from human intelligence and not meant to be shared with foreign nationals, even the closest US allies.
Some of documents reference classified information from the CIA. An agency spokesperson told CNN on Friday, “We are aware of the social media posts and are looking into the claims.”