The internet has once again exposed classified material relating to U.S. intelligence agencies and defense agencies. Do these documents undermine Washington's allies and the United States by revealing geopolitical information that is not known to their rivals? Are there any items in the leaks that are actually top secret or deserve to be? The revelations may be embarrassing for America and its allies, but have they been re-shaped and re-shaped to influence rivals as well as the global public, by showing the limits of opposing powers.
What came through the Discord App
Since February 2022, the so-called top secret files have been made public. Jack Teixeira was a National Guardsman who spread the documents on Discord servers, chat groups, 4chan, Russian Telegram channels and Minecraft chat servers. The Pentagon only became aware of the online revelations in April.
Information leaked by the Ukrainian government included analysis of issues related to and unrelated with the war. Data directly relevant to the war in Ukraine included estimates of Israel's supply of equipment to Ukraine. The UAE and Egypt may have discussed supplying rockets and munitions to Russia. South Korean officials had spoken about South Korea supplying munitions. NATO planned to train and equip Ukrainian troops. The information also covers a cyberattack against Canadian oil infrastructure, Mossad attitudes towards Israeli judiciary protests, China's Hypersonic Advances and its Indo-Pacific Manoeuvres, emerging power's desire to remain away from superpower rivalries and changing geopolitical allegiances.
A Damaging Leak?
This leak could lead to Russia or other adversaries figuring out who or how the information was collected - sources and methods in other words. An adversary who knows the sources can eliminate them. Knowing how to access information gives you the opportunity to stop it or work around and eliminate its value. If either of these two things happens, the U.S.'s ability to provide effective intelligence to Ukraine and peer into rival nation's inner workings could be compromised.
The leaked documents do not contain any major revelations. Data sets were widely known and accessible through public sources. Many of the analytical conclusions leaked had circulated outside government circles, without the need to collect top-secret data.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden
Nodding to the consequences
The U.S. government responded to the lack of severity of the incident by saying, "I am concerned that it occurred, but I don't know of anything contemporaneous at this time that would be of major consequence." The U.S. response is focused on unauthorised disclosure rather than disclosed knowledge of data sources and methods. Information security is concerned about the Discord leak because it involves a breach of duty and law by the leaker. However, this is not a major national security issue.
A Discouraging Disclosure?
Previous failures of top secret material to be contained include the Pentagon Papers, by Daniel Ellsberg, in 1971; the Wikileaks trove, by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden in 2010; the NSA tranches by Edward Snowden and Reality Winner in 2017; as well as the Intercept Report by Reality Winner. This latest leak of Discord documents is another embarrassing moment for U.S. intelligence and military communities. It highlights the poor security practices in information. This leak suggests that data management practices have not significantly improved since past incidents that were damaging to national and foreign relations.
It is possible that the content about Canada, Israel Pakistan, India and South Korea will be uncomfortable, but it won't have a great deal of impact. Our Secretaries of Defense and State can make an apology tour to our friends and allies. Director of our major agencies of intelligence will likely be making their own apology tour to the members of the Five Eyes, including Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as other friendly countries mentioned in the documents. The directors will convey assurances about the steps taken to prevent a similar leak from happening again.
What is an Influence Operation (An Influence Operation)?
After carefully analyzing the data, it is clear that the main knowledge gained from this leak was that countries spy on one another, including among partners and allies. As has been noted, much so-called classified data was already in the public domain. It is therefore impossible to ignore the possibility that this data was reworked in order to upset global competitors such as Russia and China. These data reveal how deeply the US has infiltrated these governments, their intelligence and military sectors. Now, leaders and subordinates in those authoritarian governments will be viewing each other with more distrust.
Discord documents show that despite the difficult situation in Ukraine, Russia is losing personnel and material, and its forces have been completely infiltrated with human intelligence agents, signals and geospatial information. Beijing's many tactics to aid Moscow in its unjust war and bully its way through East Asia and Pacific have been revealed. If the data that was leaked via the Discord server reflects an influence operation or has been reshaped for such a purpose, then the intention is to show Russian president Vladimir Putin, his Federal Security Service and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and their People's Liberation Army they do not have any secrets Washington can steal. Certainly,
Kremlin leaders are worried
This is a deliberate info dump... basically waging a hybrid warfare against us.
Lloyd Austin, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, has ordered a thorough review of access, accountability and control procedures for intelligence. After previous revelations, cyber defenses were deployed and the number who could receive classified information was tightened.
more stringent protocols
The U.S. Intelligence agencies need to address another important question that is related to the Discord leaks. Why is it necessary to classify so much information that's publicly available, or inferred from materials easily accessed, as top secret? By focusing on only classifying the smaller, but more important, covertly acquired data sets and the analyses derived from them, U.S. secret information will be easier to protect from spies and hackers.
Even so, government personnel and contractors involved in handling top secret information still number thousands. Even with a
Zero trust approach
Future leaks could be inevitable. The information disclosed will determine whether the disclosures are damaging to American capabilities or merely create foreign policy discomfort. They can also be used by rivals as a means of putting them at a disadvantage.