US DOJ opens Pentagon leaks investigation
The US Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into the publication of classified documents related to the Ukraine conflict, as the White House on Monday lectured journalists not to report on their content.
The Department of Defense has sent over a criminal referral to the DOJ to trigger the probe, according to Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh. Meanwhile, an internal investigation has been launched to “review and assess the validity” of the documents, which “appear to contain sensitive and highly classified material.”
Photographs of scanned briefing slides were first posted on a messaging platform called Discord in January, but went unnoticed until last week. Since then, more documents have appeared on Twitter and Telegram as well, with the latest batch emerging on Friday.
According to Financial Times, their release has “sown chaos and paranoia among Washington’s national security apparatus ahead of a critical moment” in the Ukraine conflict, just as Kiev is about to launch a highly anticipated “counter-offensive.”
Pentagon spokesman Chris Meagher told reporters on Monday that he could not confirm the documents’ authenticity, but that they “appear to show documents similar in format to those used to provide daily updates to our senior leaders on Ukraine and Russia-related operations, as well as other intelligence updates,” while insisting that some “appear to have been altered.”
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the White House that he couldn’t confirm the validity of the documents, but that they shouldn’t report on them.
“This is information that has no business in the public domain,” Kirby said. “It has no business, if you don’t mind me saying, on the front pages of newspapers or on television. It is not intended for public consumption and it should not be out there.”
That has not stopped the US media from quoting anonymous sources from inside the Pentagon to describe the hunt for the leaker and the crackdown on the flow of intelligence inside the US military. Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported “a high level of panic” at the Pentagon, while Reuters quoted speculation about the possible source, ranging from a disgruntled employee to an “insider threat.”
Both Ukraine and Russia have downplayed the documents’ significance, however. The Kremlin said Moscow had long known about Washington’s direct involvement in the conflict, while military analysts speculated the leaks might be US disinformation. Advisers to Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky also initially claimed the documents were disinformation, blaming Russia. By Monday, however, Kiev was already changing some of its military plans in response, according to CNN – while insisting the actual date of the “counteroffensive” was irrelevant because it was already underway.