Scott Ritter: US Document Leak ‘Much Ado About Nothing’
© AP Photo / Evgeniy Maloletka
A series of briefing documents ostensibly prepared for General Mark Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has found its way onto various social media outlets.
At least one of the documents contains classification markings indicating that some of the information contained on the document came from highly classified sources of information, including US-controlled national technical means and sensitive foreign-sourced information.
In all cases, the dissemination of such information is tightly controlled, and any unauthorized public release of such data would represent a serious security problem from within the highest levels of US military command.
The provenance of the leaked information is unknown, and indeed there is reason to believe that some of the data has been manipulated to help shape public opinion regarding casualty figures for both Russia and Ukraine.
It is highly unlikely that the Russian government was associated with the leak, given the way the documents appeared on the internet — initially downloaded onto a popular internet-based game, and subsequently picked up by an outlet affiliated with conspiracy theorists before being published on more mainstream outlets such as Twitter and Telegram.
Any intelligence service would be loath to compromise anything that could burn the source of sensitive intelligence, and access to the briefing documents used to inform the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be considered an intelligence coup that would be protected at all costs.
The Department of Defense has formally asked the Justice Department to carry out an investigation into who is responsible for the briefing documents being leaked.
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A cursory examination of the contents of the documents reveals little that could not be ascertained through a careful evaluation of publicly released information. While some attention has been given to specific data sets, such as the expenditure rates of HIMARS munitions by Ukraine, the fact is that the Russian military could collect this information and draw its own conclusions. The same holds true for just about all the data contained in the documents — a competent Russian military intelligence officer would be able to produce similar documents when assessing the US/NATO/Ukrainian preparations for a spring counteroffensive.
As such, the documents represent little more than an opportunity for a public feeding frenzy, underscoring the reality that this entire episode has more to do with helping shape public opinion than compromising potential future military operations. Moreover, in the information warfare game, there are more than two sides — the issues surrounding this conflict are complex, with numerous nuances that transform a black and white problem into one possessing many shades of gray.
If the source of the leak was within the US military, it would suggest that there are some who oppose the coming counteroffensive and believed that a compromise of sensitive information pertaining to preparations might help forestall this action. Others might believe that the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff might be hesitating in giving a Ukrainian spring offensive the green light and sought to release the material to force General Milley’s hand.
Conversely, this information could have been released to promote defeatism on the part of the Russian military and civilian population. Until the actual culprit is identified and the motive ascertained, everyone is left guessing regarding particulars surrounding this event.
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The bottom line, however, is that this leak will have zero impact on the actual conduct of the conflict, and besides creating internet buzz for a few days, will likewise have a similarly minimal impact on public opinion. The fact remains that Ukraine is currently hard-pressed to conduct a successful attack capable of pushing Russian forces from out the territory they currently hold.
Speculation will at some point soon yield to reality, and the truth will become known as to the capabilities of both parties to this conflict. Perceptions oftentimes create their own reality, but only in a vacuum. Facts are the ultimate judge, and the time to produce facts regarding Ukraine’s anticipated spring offensive is fast approaching. No internet leak of documents can change this.