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Pentagon Calls Apparent Leak of Classified Documents ‘Serious Risk’

A Ukrainian APC seen on the road on the frontline in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, April 9, 2023.
A Ukrainian APC seen on the road on the frontline in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, April 9, 2023.

The apparent leak of highly classified U.S. documents about the war in Ukraine poses “a very serious” risk to U.S. national security, according to a top Pentagon spokesperson.

The documents include sensitive information about Russia’s war in Ukraine as well as U.S. allies, and the breach has prompted a Justice Department investigation.

The materials, which have been circulating on various social media sites, "have the potential to spread disinformation," Chris Meagher, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, told journalists on Monday.

"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," he said.

Meagher said the documents appeared to be similar in format to those used to provide updates to senior leaders but said some of the images look like they have been altered. U.S. officials have said it appears alterations have been made to understate estimates of Russian battlefield casualties in Ukraine.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was briefed on the issue the morning of April 6, the day a New York Times story on the documents was published, according to Meagher.

The classified documents first began to appear on Discord in late February, and later spread to other social media sites, including Telegram and Twitter. However, they did not draw much notice until The New York Times reported about the material last week.

At the White House, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday that there are still many questions that have yet to be answered about the apparent leak.

“We don’t know who is behind this. We don’t know the motive. And we don’t know what else is out there,” he said.

When asked if there will be more online releases of classified documents, he said, “The truth and the honest answer to your question is, we don’t know. And is that a matter of concern to us? You’re darn right it is,” he said.

Kirby said President Joe Biden was first briefed on the matter late last week and has stayed in close contact with national security officials.

While he said the United States “cannot speak to the veracity and the validity of any of those documents at this point,” he said the information circulating online “has no business in the public domain.”

Addressing concern that the documents contain information about U.S. allies, Kirby said, “U.S. officials have been in touch with relevant allies and partners over the last couple of days at very high levels.”

State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel echoed those remarks Monday, saying U.S. officials are engaging with allies over the matter, “including to reassure them of our commitment to safeguarding intelligence.”

The Department of Defense is leading a multiagency probe into the apparent leaks, while the Department of Justice has opened a criminal case.

The Pentagon said Sunday that multiple agencies are working to assess how the leak of highly classified documents could affect national security.

While the department said it is still reviewing the validity of the photographed documents, “they appear to contain sensitive and highly classified material,” Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said in a statement.

Much of the leaked documents concern the war in Ukraine and contain sensitive information about the country’s combat capabilities. However, some documents also include information about U.S. allies, including Israel, Turkey and South Korea.

VOA's Jeff Seldin and Nike Ching contributed to this story. Some information also came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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