IT was James Jesus Angleton, the CIA counterintelligence chief from 1954 to 1975, who once coined the phrase “wilderness of mirrors” to describe the world in which he and those like him operated.

I couldn’t help thinking of that phrase again this week as news broke of the 100 or so apparently classified US documents leaked online.

This, after all, is the most significant unauthorised release of US intelligence material since the large-scale disclosures by former contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

From information showing that both US and UK special forces are on the ground in Ukraine to details about Ukrainian air strikes and predictions of how China would respond to Ukrainian strikes inside Russia, the leaks not only refer to the ongoing conflict but other much wider foreign policy and intelligence-related issues.

Among the most damning for the administration of US President Joe Biden – who was in Belfast yesterday – was confirmation again that the US spies on its allies, even if this is hardly news.

Speculation as to who was responsible for the leaks and their motives for doing so continue to swirl. Was this Moscow’s doing to expose Ukrainian weakness and undermine morale?

Or were they actually spread by Ukraine – no slouches in online warfare – in a plot to make the Kremlin think that Ukraine is weak and thereby disguise its true strengths in advance of a planned spring counteroffensive?

Then again, could the leaks have come from one of those discontented Americans in Washington’s corridors of power in an effort to curtail US support for Kyiv?

While Republican opposition to US support for Ukraine remains a minority within the party, there’s little doubt that as the focus moves to domestic economic issues in the run-up to the US presidential election in November 2024, the costs of supporting Ukraine will make it a top-tier issue for mainstream presidential candidates.

For now, the US Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into the leaks and the Pentagon is conducting its own assessment as well as considering how the information was distributed and who had access to it.

We will probably never know the full truth behind who was responsible for these latest leaks, but if one thing stands out about them, it’s the timing. Currently, there is a growing sense of now or never emerging in Ukraine as it finalises its preparations for a counteroffensive.

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After stalling the Kremlin’s forces, who appear to have run out of steam after making only incremental gains in the east of the country during its own winter onslaught, Kyiv is sensing its moment on the battlefield.

As Mykola Bielieskov, a research fellow at the National Institute for Strategic Studies in Kyiv, summed it up on one news outlet the other day: “Who knows when Ukraine will get this chance again.”

Only recently, in what was almost a taunting nod to Moscow, Ukraine’s defence ministry posted tongue-in-cheek footage of a serviceman dancing in a muddied trench with the caption: “Once the ground hardens, it will be possible to launch an offensive.”

But it’s not just the weather that matters here.

It’s also the capacity of Ukrainian troops to complete the training supported by the West and master the weapons received from its allies, notably tanks and air defence systems, before any offensive can begin.

Bringing all these moving parts together – training, weapons and ammunition supplies, intelligence and logistics – is a colossal task.

Having stockpiled sufficient ammunition and taken in long-range artillery and battle tanks from the West, Ukraine has bolstered its army, even if it, too, like Russia, has suffered enormous casualties.

The moment, then, is rapidly approaching when Ukraine aims to hit back against Russian forces which are badly depleted after their lacklustre offensive in the Donbas.

The measure of just how much blood both sides have spilled on the battlefield can be gauged by the news that both Russia and Ukraine have tightened their conscription rules ahead of the coming military showdown.

Keeping each other guessing over the next moves in their respective military campaigns is now more vital than ever and this, perhaps, is where the recent leaks – if indeed they did come from Ukraine or the US – could be part of an overall plan to keep Russia wrong-footed.

This, for example, could account for one of the leaked documents reportedly warning that Ukraine might fail to amass sufficient troops and weaponry for the offensive and might even fall “well short” of Kyiv’s goals for recapturing territory seized by Russia.

For such a misinformation campaign to succeed, it would have to contain intelligence material that in some instances would be genuine while at the same time marginally damaging.

In short, the leaks would be calculated to sacrifice some real and even embarrassing intelligence data to enable other fabricated information to be placed alongside it that would keep Moscow guessing, but hey, this once again is all speculation.

What’s almost certainly a given, though, is that when Ukraine’s counteroffensive finally does get under way, it will arguably mark the most important and potentially defining event of this war to date since Ukraine’s forces stopped the Russian advance outside Kyiv last year at the beginning of the invasion.

So much is at stake in this looming showdown that no effort will be spared by either side – be it on the physical battlefield or misinformation and propaganda arena – to gain a crucial advantage.

Which brings us back to the question of timing. For just as knowledge of who leaked the US intelligence documents of late is most likely the preserve of a small number of people, so too does knowledge of the precise timing of Ukraine’s coming offensive.

While most observers agree that any premature launch could prove disastrous, others say preparations for the offensive will most likely come to a head by June or July, somewhat later than recent predictions of a start in early May. But only time will tell.

If this has been a week that has seen a leak of US intelligence plunge Ukraine’s war into a “wilderness of mirrors” with claims of misinformation and disinformation, then the war on the ground is once again about to move into sharp focus.

And just as it has been for this past year and more now, it will be an unedifying sight indeed.