man at podium

Kremlin eyes US intelligence leak, questions authenticity

There are still lots of unknowns about a leaked trove of classified US intelligence information. Secrets about Russia’s war in Ukraine made their way online, then, eventually, into the news. The incident has been embarrassing for the Pentagon and the White House. In Russia, officials at the Kremlin and media commentators are all paying close attention. 

The World

A trove of classified, US intelligence information that was first posted on the social media platform, Discord, a few months ago, made its way into news reports over the last week.

On Thursday, a Massachusetts Air National Guard member, Jack Teixeira, 21, who had emerged as a key suspect in the leak, was taken into custody by federal agents and will be charged with the unauthorized removal of classified national defense information, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced.

Investigators believe that the guardsman, who specializes in intelligence, led the online chat group where the documents, which speak to the war in Ukraine, were posted.

The emergence of Teixeira as the apparent primary suspect is bound to raise questions about how the highest-profile intelligence leak in years, one that continues to unfold with almost daily revelations of highly classified documents, could have been caused by such a young, low-ranking service member.

The Biden administration has scrambled for days to contain the fallout from the leaked information, which has publicized potential vulnerabilities in Ukraine’s air defense capabilities and exposed private assessments by allies on an array of intelligence matters.

The incident has been embarrassing for the Pentagon and the White House. The Biden administration launched a “full-blown investigation” into the intelligence leak, while the documents, which had started showing up on Russian Telegram channels, were discussed at length on Russian state TV.

Francis Scarr, who analyzes Russian state media for BBC Monitoring, said that the leaked documents seemed to have caught pundits there unawares.

“Often, you see some kind of major development internationally and the Russian state media comes out in unison, you see across the three main channels, they almost use the same phrasing sometimes in the way they react to it.”

But Scarr said that was not the case earlier in the week when this story first appeared on Russian state TV.

“Purely because these shows on Russian state TV last for hours every single day, it’s impossible to control everything that’s said on them,” he said. “There have been a couple of cases where pundits on these shows have mentioned elements of the leak which point to Russian weaknesses and show that Russia has been deeply infiltrated by US intelligence.”

Scarr offered an example that played during a segment on a popular political talk show called “60 minutes” (not to be confused with the American news show with the same name).

“This former intelligence official mentioning this fact that the US seems to have gained information by spying, it wasn’t just open-source information and suddenly, the presenter was caught unawares by this and asked him to elaborate, and as soon as he started explaining what it meant she just quickly changed the subject.”

So, at times, when information from the documents didn’t fit the Kremlin’s narrative, Scarr said, commentators scrambled to suppress it. They also sought to question the validity of the documents and play up instances that made America look bad.

The highest-ranking Russian official to comment on the leaked documents is Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov, who called the leaks “interesting” but questioned their authenticity.

He said that everyone knows that the US collects intelligence on everyone. And he claimed that Russia was already aware of a lot of the information that’s come out.

Pavel Luzin, a visiting scholar at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said he wasn’t surprised by the fact that the US collected this information, “because we know for many years that the United States invests in these capabilities a lot of money.”

Luzin is also skeptical about some of the information that appears in these leaked documents. Nonetheless, he said that this information won’t affect Ukraine’s military planning.

Even taking the leak seriously, “We cannot see the number of missiles, the number of artillery shells. We cannot see the actual number of armored vehicles. What we can see in these leaks, we can find in open-sources by ourselves.”

Luzin said that overall, we know a lot more about Russia’s military capability than we do about Ukraine’s.

“The trend is that Russia is becoming weaker and weaker every single day. That doesn’t mean that Russia is becoming less dangerous. No. The weaker Russia is, the more aggressive Russia [is].”

Whatever comes out of the intelligence leak in the days ahead, Luzin said one thing has not changed: Ukraine still has to win this war on the battlefield.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.