NOTHING more than “dust in the eyes”, one aide to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it. US president Joe Biden meanwhile was equally dismissive of the potential damage to US interests and those of its allies from the latest leak of Pentagon documents, saying he wasn’t aware of any information “that is of great consequence”.

Move along, nothing to see here, as the saying goes. This appears to be the order of the day as both Kyiv and Washington seek to downplay the impact of more than 100 apparently classified documents finding their way online in the most significant unauthorised release of US intelligence material since the large-scale disclosures by former contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

This weekend, Jack Teixeira, a 21-year-old enlisted member of the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, is in custody after being arrested on Thursday in the small town of North Dighton for allegedly leaking the highly sensitive documents.

On Friday, Teixeira was officially charged with unauthorised transmission of defence information.

He is also charged with the unauthorised removal and retention of classified documents, both charges meaning he could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty.

In leaking the documents, Teixeira is said to have done so as leader of a group called Thug Shaker Central on Discord, a popular social messaging app that’s been around since 2015 and carved out a reputation as a niche platform for avid video-gamers. But after the Covid-19 pandemic struck and lockdown became the norm, Discord saw its mainstream popularity surge beyond video-gamers.

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Those mainly 20 to 30 young people who belonged to the Discord group headed up by Teixeira knew him as “OG”, and were well aware he had access to sensitive information from his line of work, according to the Washington Post. For its part, Discord in a company statement has said that it is cooperating with law enforcement agencies.

“As this remains an active investigation, we cannot provide further comment at this time,” the statement said.

While just what level of security clearance Teixeira had remains unclear, various US media outlets have reported that he served in information technology as a “cyber transport systems journeyman” and recently worked night shifts at a base on Cape Cod.

What we do know is that much of the classified documents Teixeira allegedly leaked relate to Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. Of particular concern is that some of the documents contained information relevant to Ukraine’s imminent spring counteroffensive, though they did not contain specific plans for the counteroffensive itself.

Nevertheless, despite political efforts to play down the impact of the leaks, there’s no doubt that much hand-wringing will be going on in Washington and Kyiv right now.

Chief among the concerns regarding the war in Ukraine are detailed maps and battlefield inventories on the “status of the conflict”. One of the biggest revelations, according to a document dated in February, is that munitions for Soviet-era air defence systems deployed by Ukraine will soon run out, potentially endangering the capital Kyiv.

The S300 missile defence system is expected to run out of munitions by May and the SA-11 Gadfly system at the end of March, the document reveals. Both systems make up 89% of Ukraine’s air defences, according to Nato, and are crucial in fending off frequent Russian missile strikes.

Cited by the US political website The Hill, Kurt Volker, a distinguished fellow with the Center for European Policy Analysis, said the leak is worrying because it gives the world a “snapshot” of US assessments and judgements on the war in Ukraine.

“It is signalling to Ukrainians, to Russians, to others, ‘Here’s what we’re thinking’,” Volker said, and it “may give some clues as to the quality of our information, where we’re getting it from … which will cause the people we’re collecting on to shut that down”.

Within another file lies an assessment of the supply of the 200 tanks that US allies have committed to sending Ukraine, concluding that the number is 53 short of what Ukraine needs for its spring offensive. According to an assessment dated February 23, Poland and Slovenia appear to be the largest contributors, donating nearly half of the total. France and the UK are also key players, supplying 14 tanks each.

Given that the thinking behind Europe taking the lead on delivering tanks was primarily based on speed and readiness for the spring offensive, the information contained in the documents means that only 31% of the 200 tanks pledged had arrived at the battlefield. The one positive note from the Ukrainian and allied perspective is that the remaining 120 tanks were on track to be transferred.

But details pertaining to Russia’s war in Ukraine don’t stop there – far from it. One official from a country that is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangement with the US, which includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, said it was alarming to see one of the documents from February titled Russia-Ukraine: Battle For The Donbas Region Likely Heading for a Stalemate Throughout 2023.

The document is said to note the challenges with assessing the “endurance of Ukraine’s operations”, with the assessment indicating “force generation and sustainment shortfall” for Ukraine’s military.

Speaking to broadcaster CNN, the Five Eyes official said that “gains for Ukraine will be hard to accomplish, but it does not help to have the private US assessment pointing to a likely yearlong stalemate revealed publicly”.

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Other information now in the public domain is equally embarrassing, not least in that it proves that Europe has “boots on the ground”.

One file dated March 23, 2023, suggests that 97 special forces personnel from Nato countries were active in Ukraine during February and March of this year. More than half of the Western special forces deployed in Ukraine are from the United Kingdom.

More problematic for Washington, too, is that several leaked documents appear to reveal US espionage tactics in relation to the war in Ukraine. Or to put this another way, spying on allies and friends. While this is hardly news given that it has been standard practice for time immemorial, it’s never good for such details to be exposed.

One document shows that the US had been monitoring Ukrainian president

Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s calls with defence and military officials. Other documents say that the US deeply penetrated Russia’s military – for example, it had Russian plans for striking Ukrainian forces in Odesa and Mykolaiv in early March.

The documents also contain details of the extent to which the US has penetrated the Russian Ministry of Defence and the Russian mercenary organisation Wagner Group, the latter allegedly having sought to covertly buy arms from Turkey for the group’s “efforts in Mali and Ukraine”, according to intercepted communications and human sources.

The information, which the document says came from “signals intelligence” – a euphemism for digital surveillance – does not explain whether the purchases have occurred.

But it’s not just data and detail that is contained in the leaks. The Pentagon papers also include a rumour that Russian president Vladimir Putin is undergoing chemotherapy. According to a report in the Independent newspaper the documents do not specify what alleged medical condition Putin has that requires chemotherapy, but rumours have been circulating for some time that the Russian president has cancer.

The National:

The source’s name is redacted in the report and claims they received their information from an unidentified Russian source who has access to Kremlin officials.

The Independent also says that the documents indicate that Russian chief of general staff Valery Gerasimov and Russian National Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev “devised” a plan to “sabotage” Putin while he undergoes medical treatment by diverting resources from Russia to Ukraine’s southern front.

THE public release of such information is troublesome in that US intelligence on Russia could obviously now be compromised. Intelligence experts agree that all the attention around the leaks is likely to lead to a more stringent crackdown in Moscow on communications intercepts and internal leaking.

“They’ll be scouring this and trying to figure out, ‘Where are they [the US] getting this information from? How much of it is human intelligence, how much of it is signals?’” Volker was quoted by The Hill as saying. Other analysts say that Russia is aware of US intelligence gathering methods and has already been working to plug up holes.

The leaked US dossiers have also cast light on incidents that have otherwise been played down but reveal the dangers of possible wider escalation because of Russia’s war in Ukraine. One such incident occurred over the Black Sea last September when a Russian fighter jet “released” a missile “in the vicinity” of a UK surveillance plane.

The dossier describes the incident as a “near shoot-down” of the British aircraft. The language at least is a far cry from what British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told politicians last October.

Revealing details from the document last week, the New York Times reported that the Russian pilot had locked on to the British aircraft before the missile failed to fire properly.

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Beyond the war in Ukraine, the fallout from the leaks is reverberating far and wide. One revelation from the documents included classified information that Egypt was secretly planning to support Russia in its war against Ukraine.

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi ordered up to 40,000 rockets to be produced and shipped to Moscow, according to one document. Not exactly what you would expect from one of Washington’s key allies in the Middle East region – it provides more than $1 billion to Cairo annually.

Likewise, there was news in the leaks that the United Arab Emirates (UAE), an oil-rich Arab nation in the Middle East, planned to work with Russian spies against British and American intelligence agencies. Elsewhere in the region, America’s main ally, Israel, will likely be none too pleased that some of the leaked documents indicate the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad supported recent nationwide protests against a proposed judicial reform from prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But then again, such mutual snooping is nothing new.

That said, it would be wrong to underestimate the extents of the damage done by these leaks, whatever spin Washington puts on them. In one fell swoop, they have exposed a rare window into how the US spies on allies and foes alike.

For now, the questions and damage control are running hand in hand. Perhaps more than any other question being asked is how such a junior member of the American military like airman Jack Teixeira could have gained possession of highly classified materials and be in a position to publish them.

“It’s extraordinary that he has been able to get access in the way that he has and it shines a light on how shockingly easy it has been to have such a major intelligence gap,” Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the US and Americas programme at Chatham House was quoted by the Financial Times as saying.

It’s a view shared by many, and the damage Teixeira has caused might not end with the leaks online. Already his case is becoming something of a cause celebre in certain US political circles as the country gears up for a presidential election next year. Some even appear to be trying to make Teixeira into something of political martyr.

“Teixeira is white, male, Christian and anti-war. That makes him an enemy to the Biden regime. And he told the truth about troops being on the ground in Ukraine and a lot more,” tweeted Marjorie Taylor Greene, the controversial Republican congresswoman from Georgia, and a close ally of former president Donald Trump.

“Ask yourself who is the real enemy? A young low-level national guardsman [sic]? Or the administration that is waging war in Ukraine, a non-Nato nation, against nuclear Russia without war powers?”

As the US political and intelligence community reels from the fallout after the Pentagon leaks and questions are asked, the one thing already apparent is how it has underscored the deep crisis in managing classified information in today’s online age.

It’s all very well to say that this is nothing more than “dust in the eyes” or that the information leaked is not of “great consequence”. All spin aside, this affair has both blindsided the US intelligence community and embarrassed the Biden administration. Only time will tell the full extent of the damage it has done to Ukraine’s war effort and America’s relations with its allies and, indeed, how Moscow might capitalise on it.