The Pentagon is investigating purported classified U.S. military and intelligence documents posted on social media, adding to concerns of a potential breach after documents that appear to be U.S. and NATO efforts to aid Ukraine were posted online earlier this week.
More than 100 images of documents with classification markings were posted on an online message board for enthusiasts of the computer game Minecraft, according to media reports.
The documents, which were posted around March 1, contain information about U.S. weapons provided to Ukraine, the disposition of Ukrainian forces in addition to sensitive intelligence regarding several other nations including Israel and South Korea.
Some of the documents were marked “Top Secret,” the nation’s highest classification marking.
Many of the documents have since been deleted, though open-source intelligence sleuths have been able to download more than 60 of the documents.
The Pentagon said late Friday that it is investigating the matter.
“The Department of Defense is actively reviewing the matter, and has made a formal referral to the Department of Justice for investigation,” Sabrina Singh, Pentagon deputy press secretary, said in a statement.
A Justice Department spokesperson also told multiple outlets that the department is coordinating with the Pentagon on the investigation but declined to comment further.
The documents were discovered by Aric Tyler, the head of research and training at the Bellingcat investigative consortium on Friday, one day after Secret documents appearing to detail U.S. and NATO efforts to aid the Ukrainian military were discovered online.
The purported leak, first reported late Thursday by The New York Times, comes as Ukrainian forces prepare for a high-stakes spring counteroffensive against the invading Russian army. The papers, which were posted to Twitter and Telegram and have since prompted a Pentagon investigation, do not offer specific battle plans for Ukraine‘s coming operations.
But the documents do contain some information that would surely be valuable to Russian commanders. For example, the papers detail the “expenditure rate” of U.S.-supplied artillery systems by the Ukrainian military, the newspaper reported. Such information would give Russian forces insight into how quickly the Ukrainian military is burning through its resources.
Ukrainian officials said they believe those documents were forged by Russia or pro-Russian actors, raising questions about their authenticity and accuracy. It appears the documents were altered, raising the possibility that the underlying materials are genuine but important details were changed by pro-Russian actors. For example, the documents list the number of estimated Russian military deaths so far in the war at just 16,000. Western officials put the number of Russian casualties at nearly 200,000.
Throughout the conflict, Moscow has routinely downplayed the number of its soldiers who have been killed or wounded while inflating the number of Ukrainian casualties.
Ukrainian officials seized on those discrepancies.
“In recent decades, the most successful operations of the Russian special services took place in Photoshop,” Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesperson Andrii Yusov said Friday.
Reuters reported Friday that pro-Russian figures are likely behind the leak and that they appear to have altered some details, the news outlet said, citing three unnamed U.S. officials.
It’s not clear how the document leak could impact Ukrainian counteroffensive plans, if at all. Ukrainian forces are locked in a bitter battle for the strategically vital city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. Western intelligence sources say that Russian troops have made modest gains in recent days.
“Russia has made further gains and has now highly likely advanced into the town center, and has seized the west bank of the Bakhmutka River,” the British Ministry of Defense said in a Twitter post on Friday, adding that Ukrainian supply lines are now threatened.
“Russian regular forces, likely including airborne troops, have probably reinforced the area, and Russia is again using artillery more effectively in the sector,” British defense officials said.