Leaked US documents may originate from gamer chat room

A major leak of classified US documents that rocked Washington and exposed new details of its intelligence gathering may have started in a chat room on a social media platform popular with gamers.

Held on the Discord platform, which hosts real-time voice, video and text chats, a discussion originally created to talk about a variety of topics related to the war in Ukraine. As part of the discussions about Ukraine, according to a member of the chat, an unidentified user shared supposedly classified documents, first typing them with the user’s own thoughts and then, starting a few months ago, began posting images of documents with folds in them.

The posts appear to have flown under the radar outside of the chat until a few weeks ago, when they began circulating more widely on social media and were picked up by mainstream media outlets. The leaks alarmed US officials and prompted a Justice Department investigation.

The records have provided startling and surprisingly timely details of US and NATO assistance to Ukraine. They also provided hints about efforts to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, including an anticipated spring offensive.

The scale of the exhibition has yet to be determined. It is also unclear if any government worked to share the documents or tamper with them.

Asked Monday if the US government was indeed waiting for more intelligence documents to surface online, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby replied: “The truth and honest answer to your question is : we do not know. And is that something that worries us? You are absolutely right, it is.

Chris Meagher, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, urged caution in “promoting or amplifying any of these documents,” adding that “the slides appear to have been tampered with.”

But the breach highlights the difficulties US and other governments face in obtaining classified information. Congressional reviews and pundits have long warned about the weaknesses of US counterintelligence, about the challenges of monitoring an estimated 3 million people with security clearance, and about agencies that over-produce and classify so much information that the US cannot reliably control.

“I think the intelligence agencies have adjusted and gotten better at preventing all kinds of mass electronic leaks,” said Kellen Dwyer, a former Justice Department prosecutor who was part of the team that brought a federal case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “But clearly, they haven’t gotten good enough.”

The Associated Press interviewed a person who said he was a member of the Discord chat group where documents appeared for several months. The person, who said she was 18, declined to give her name, citing concerns for his personal safety.

The AP was unable to independently confirm many details shared by the person, and the original chat room has been removed.

The AP reviewed images of documents that appeared in recent weeks on discussion forums. They include a top-secret analysis of deepening intelligence service ties between Russia’s FSB and agencies in the United Arab Emirates, the oil-rich Persian Gulf nation that hosts a US airbase and cooperates on many security issues. security with Washington.

Citing intelligence signals, the March analysis says FSB officers were caught claiming the UAE had agreed with Russia to “work together against US and UK intelligence agencies.”

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An Emirati government spokesman said the allegations “are categorically false.” US officials from various agencies declined to comment on the document.

AP also saw an analysis of what could happen in the Russia-Ukraine war in certain war scenarios. "wildcard", even if Russian President Vladimir Putin or Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy were to die. The analysis is marked as secret, one level of classification lower than top secret.

If Putin were to fire his top military advisers and the war escalated, the document speculates that he could authorize the use of tactical nuclear weapons if “elites question Putin’s decision-making and Russian forces cannot overcome shortages of personnel and equipment.” ”.

Zelenskyy’s death, at its worst, could lead Europe to restrict arms shipments, the document says. But a "high-profile Ukrainian leader" it could also retain domestic and foreign support, he says.

The investigative journalism organization Bellingcat, which specializes in investigating social media and open source logging, interviewed the same person and two other people in the Discord chat room, dubbed “Thug Shaker Central.”

Bellingcat reported Saturday that the Thug Shaker Central documents appear to have been shared in another chat room, “WowMao.” From WowMao, the documents appear to have been disseminated more widely and eventually became the subject of a story in The New York Times on Thursday, which reported for the first time that the Pentagon was investigating a breach.

The Discord user who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity says he was on a call with several other people, including the person who for months had been posting documents he said were classified, when the Times story broke.

“We all got a little lost,” said the Discord user. “We couldn’t believe what was happening.”

The person said his main motivation for speaking to the media was to clean up the reputation of a third party, who uses the screen name "Lucca". Lucca’s posts with many of the documents were widely shared on Twitter and other social media. Those documents were reported by The New York Times, The Washington Post and other news outlets.

Lucca “is just a kid,” said the poster who spoke to the AP. “He was just constantly posting it to annoy people.”

The cartel refused to identify the person who originally uploaded the documents to Thug Shaker Central or confirm if that person worked for the US government. It referred to the original uploader with a nickname, "the og".

But the poster said that the person who first released the documents did not appear to be driven by ideology or widely exposing government secrets, but rather to impress people in their group.

If that person was arrested, the sign said they had copies of "more than hundreds" of file pages.

He wanted to protect his colleagues in the now-defunct chat, but he also believed that the documents contained secrets that Americans should know. “In case the OG is arrested, I am leaking them all,” the poster read.

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